New law requires Missouri schools to screen for dyslexia

Published: Jun. 29, 2016 at 6:46 AM CDT
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A new law requires all Missouri public and charter schools to screen students for dyslexia before they enter kindergarten.

The requirement was part of Senate Bill 638, signed into law by Governor Nixon last week. The goal of the screenings is to identify which students might be more likely to have dyslexia early on in their educational career.

An early diagnosis might have changed things for Springfield student Anna Joplin. Now a middle schooler, Anna struggled for her first few years in school.

"It was really confusing and I didn't know what to do," she said.

Anna was smart, but she had a hard time with reading and spelling.

"I always knew that she had these strange, amazing things that she could do and then struggled with other things that she shouldn't have," said Missy Joplin, Anna's mother. "So I kind of always knew that there was something."

It wasn't until third grade that Anna was diagnosed with dyslexia.

"Getting that diagnosis, and then we were like, okay, there's a reason. She's got dyslexia, that's easy. And now that we understand there's a reason and she learns differently and all that's coming together, it's a great thing to see."

The new law will also require teachers to receive two hours of training on methods to address dyslexia. It will also establish a task force to recommend how teachers and schools can accommodate and foster learning for their dyslexic students.

"I think there's still that stigma that it is... something is wrong," said Noel Leif, Director of the Springfield Center for Dyslexia and Learning. "And it's not about being wrong, it's just being different. Which I feel like in this day and era and age, we embrace being different. So I would believe that teachers would embrace that as well. It's just changing your teaching style."

Knowing more about dyslexia and embracing Anna's different way of learning could have made a huge impact on her early education.

"Had we known early on I think she could have started to succeed maybe in kindergarten, rather than not succeeding and getting to third grade before we finally figured out and fourth grade before the tests were all done," Missy said. "It was a very long process, so I think to decrease years of failure would have been huge for her."

"Parents go into kindergarten wondering why their kids aren't on task and a lot of times the answer is, just wait, it will come," Leif added. "But if you know that your child is more likely to be dyslexic you may investigate and find other sources to help your student or your child learn to read."

At the start of each school year, Anna prepares a presentation for her teachers on dyslexia and how she learns differently than her peers. She said it doesn't bother her that others know she is dyslexic. Instead, it is comforting to know that others, as many as one in five students nationwide, are dealing with the same struggles as her.

"Now that I know that there other people that are going through the same thing as me, it's a little easier," Anna said.

The screenings will start in the 2018-2019 school year.