Even with new dyslexia law, many schools still missing the mark

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — When 5th grader Sophia Huey comes across a word she doesn’t know or remember she puts her pen to the paper.

“I scoop it like bask-et-ball then I put it all together like basketball,” says Sophia describing how she marks each syllable to sound the word out.

Sixth-grader Allie Florence rewrites and color codes her math equations.

“That makes more sense to me, says Allie as she’s working out her problem on a dry erase board.

These are tricks that help these Henrico students overcome their dyslexia.

“It helps me line up the numbers,” says Sophia about the trick she uses to decipher math equations.

Many think of dyslexia as kids reversing letters and writing backward, but as the girls’ moms explain it, the brain is wired differently.

“It can take 10,000 exposures to a word for it to actually get into their long-term memory,” explains Sophia’s mom, Jenna Hynes Huey.

Often dyslexic students like Sophia and Allie have high IQ’s and are gifted in certain areas but they have difficulty decoding words and symbols.

“She will look at absolute value and parentheses and they look the same to her,” explains Allie’s mom, Tracey Florence.

Dyslexia is the most common learning disability in the United States impacting one in every five students. Yet, despite these statistics, and a law now requiring every school district in Virginia to have a dyslexia advisor in place, many Virginia schools are still missing the mark.

Jenna says they’re failing to provide proper accommodations and remediation. Hynes also heads the region’s grassroots group Decoding Dyslexia.

“You know sitting here today, I am outraged,” says Jenna.

“We have struggled to find her the right players and the right access to get her good remediation and the right accommodation in all of her classes,” Florence said.

“Sometimes I feel frustrated, sometimes I feel angry,” says Sophia.

What’s the problem? First, a lack of training for teachers.

“Most bachelor’s programs for teachers don’t go deep into dyslexia at all. I have heard teachers say, ‘Yeah there was a page,'” says Jenna.

A lack of funding for certified dyslexia advisors combined with a Statewide teacher shortage, particularly in special education has added to the problem.

In Henrico, 8News has learned the district’s designated dyslexia advisor is an assistant superintendent who, as you can imagine, already has a lot of other responsibilities.

We also found there appears to be no standard practice for working with these kids, it varies from school to school.

“At my elementary school, I did have a person that would meet with me for an hour and half each day or so just to help me understand what I learned in class,” explains Allie.

“She was getting a lot of support and a lot of remediation,” says Florence.

“I do feel like at my new school most of my teachers have tried to help, but they don’t know how to help,” says Allie.

It’s not just Henrico, we checked with parents and administrators at schools districts around the region and the responses to how they comply with this law varies greatly.

Richmond Schools told us simply:

“According to our Curriculum & Instruction department, Richmond Public Schools is in compliance. There is a K-5 Instructional Specialist for Reading/English Language Arts who has the requisite training in the Virginia Department of Education recognized programs.”

Chesterfield Schools told us in a statement:

“Chesterfield County Public Schools (CCPS) continues to work to build capacity of the division in responding to student-specific needs at both a systemic level and providing resources at the school level for ready access for families and students. A great example of this is the work surrounding HB 2395/SB 1516 which has focused on training multiple teachers, administrators and reading support staff in the characteristics and research based instructional interventions for students with specific learning disabilities and with the characteristics of dyslexia.”

CCPS rolled out training in structured literacy and multi-sensory literacy instruction and is looking forward to continuing these initiatives within the next school year (this topic is also an area of focus for our local Special Education Advisory Committee). The point person with this initiative within the Department of Special Education is our Coordinator of Special Education and Transition Services. This work also bridges both special education and general education and our Coordinator of Special Education is working closely with our Curriculum Coordinator in the Department of Teaching & Learning.

The Department of Special Education is also in the process of recruiting and hiring a Special Education Literacy Specialist who will also work within this framework to support student, staff and school programming related to this issue and the larger area of literacy development for students with disabilities.”

Hanover schools told us this:

“We use a team approach in Hanover. Our Assistant Director of Special Education serves as our division’s dyslexia advisor.  She has completed state-recommended training, which is optional as I understand it.  Another member is our Curriculum Specialist for Language Arts and Reading, who has a reading specialist background.  The final two members work in our Special Education department as SPED Coordinators.  One has completed state-recommended training, and the other will complete the optional training in February.  On a related note, many of our special education teachers have received professional development training from Ms. Kim Baussum-Brown who serves as the VDOE dyslexia specialist.”

Petersburg Schools said this:

“Division Reading Coach Kelly Tobe serves as dyslexia adviser for Petersburg City Public Schools. She has extensive experience and qualifications: Kelly Tobe is a licensed reading specialist (prekindergarten through 12th grade) who is further licensed in English as a second language (prekindergarten through 12th grade), in administration and supervision (prekindergarten through 12th grade) and in elementary education (prekindergarten through sixth grade). She earned her master’s degree with a double focus on reading and English as a second language. She has an extensive background in reading interventions for prekindergarten through eighth grade including dyslexia interventions and teaching techniques. Throughout her career, she has planned, created and presented 100+ trainings on all aspects of literacy and intervention for educators. In October 2017, she participated in dyslexia training through the Virginia Department of Education and will attend another VDOE dyslexia training Dec. 11-12. Throughout the 2017-18 school year, Kelly Tobe is part of a TTAC project that is training Petersburg first-grade teachers on spelling rules. (TTAC is a Virginia Department of Education program that provides professional development and support to help schools address accountability and improvement goals for students with disabilities.) She is training special educators Dec. 6-7 on intervention strategies and has been providing monthly training for Title I teachers.”

In a statement Henrico schools spokesman Andy Jenks says:

“We continually work to find the resources that will help us better serve the students and families who are dealing with dyslexia. We join these parents in wanting to do more to serve our students with special needs.”

8News was also told the district is considering in their annual budget- creating a full-time position for a dyslexia advisor.

“The school division is considering this kind of position as part of the annual budget process, which is in the early stages of public input and feedback,” Jenks said. “We look forward to further developments in the New Year as our budget proposal takes shape. In the meantime, our Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Support (who has the training, education and required endorsements) works with a team of Exceptional Education staff and reading specialists to collaborate and address parent and staff concerns.”

“I can get behind someone, someone who had an interest in learning more and who will right away go get certified,” says Jenna.

She has created this petition in support it of a full-time dyslexia advisor.

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