from about 9,000 currently
to about 137,000.
Marinos House Bill 69 would require all kindergarten teachers, at the start of the second semester of that year, to screen every one of their children more than 50,000 in all for dyslexia using a specially purchased screener. And that screener cant be just any screener, but has to meet certain criteria, including that the instrument is one developed solely for dyslexia.
The Legislative Fiscal Office says such screeners cost between $1.30 and $5 a test. That would cost schools in the state an additional $65,000 to $250,000 a year overall, depending on which test the state goes with. Advocates say the cost will likely be about $1.50 a test.
Currently, Louisiana law gives schools a four-year window from the start of kindergarten to the end of third grade to test all schoolchildren for for the existence of impediments to a successful school experience.” That includes dyslexia, but also attention deficit disorder and social and environmental factors that put a child at risk of dropping out of school.
Children in those grades also are screened annually in Louisiana for their literacy levels. Its a process that can flag children who are at risk for dyslexia, but since those tests arent designed for that purpose advocates say they miss many dyslexic children.
Speaking to the House Committee, Dr. Cassidy said that the second semester of kindergarten is the earliest to test children for dyslexia and get a valid result.
HB69 is supported by the states Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and has 58 coauthors. It was approved unanimously by the House Education Committee and six days later was approved unanimously by the House. It now awaits action in the Senate Education Committee.
How common is dyslexia?
Louisianas current rate of dyslexia, about 1.3%, is likely an undercount but its not clear how much.
One estimate, dating from 2004, suggests that less than 3% of children suffer from dyslexia. Other estimates are typically in the single digits.
The commonly cited 20% estimate comes from an influential longitudinal study of about 400 children in Connecticut conducted by the husband and wife team Bennett and Sally Shaywitz, professors at the Yale Medical School and founders of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity.
Richard Wagner is a professor of psychology at Florida State University
and is an associate director of the Florida Center for Reading Research. He has published several academic papers examining dyslexia prevalence.
Wagner said the different estimates often stem from both how one defines dyslexia, how bad a childs reading needs to be before its considered dyslexia, and the statistical dividing line that researchers set for such determinations.
Its probable that 3 to 5% of children have a severe problem (with dyslexia) that will impact their life, Wagner said.
Wagner, however, said hes not a fan of hard-and-fast estimates which draw a line at who has dyslexia or not, favoring instead more of sliding scale.
You can understand why people want a number, to know what the size of the problem is, but its really more of a distribution, he said.
For instance, dyslexia is often defined as children who read poorly despite having average to above average listening skills or general intelligence. Wagner, however, said in his research hes found children who have a notable gap between their reading and listening skills but still do at least average in reading and consequently dont get much help in school but could still use it.
Accommodations and using assistive technology can get kids like that through college, Wagner said.
Differing definitions
In her April 18 testimony to the House Education Committee, Cassidy said its important for the state to use a screener that measures a students general intelligence as well as their reading and listening skills.
Cassidy said at Louisiana Key Academy children arrive performing behind their peers in reading and often have internalized wrongly the idea they are lazy or stupid. But in truth they are above or above average intelligence, she said.
At Louisiana Key Academy, students are screened using an intelligence test known as Kaufman Brief Intelligence Test. Cassidy said shed like such a screener used in Louisiana because it would show children that their intelligence is not the reason they are having problems reading.
This is current science, Cassidy said. Because what the IQ test shows to the parent, to the teacher, to the student is that they are smart, and the reading test shows that they cannot read.
IQ testing in dyslexia screening, though, has its detractors.
Wagner prefers a different approach, which focuses on the gap between listening and reading comprehension in children. He said an IQ-based approach may miss some children.
It makes more sense to refine it a bit to find people who cant understand as much when they read as when they listen, Wagner said.
Other dyslexia schools
Louisiana Key Academy is not the only school in the state that focuses on dyslexia. Others include The Brighton School, a private school in Baton Rouge with about 200 students, and The Max Charter School in Thibodaux, which has about 100 students.
Leaders of both schools say they support the general aim of the HB69 in raising awareness of dyslexia and the chances that more children will get the help they need. Both, however, have concerns.