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In 2016, the Missouri legislature passed its first “dyslexia law”, which is a collection of statutes addressing screening and intervention requirements designed to improve the reading skills of children with dyslexia or its characteristics in public and charter schools. The law became active at the beginning of the 2018-2019 schoolyear (Wegner, 2018). Thirty other states have passed similar legislation; however, none of those states’ laws have resulted in statistically significant improvement in standardized test scores designed to measure students’ reading proficiency (Phillips & Odegard, 2017). Although the various state laws are independent and distinct, they all mandate a higher level of screening for students with characteristics of dyslexia as well as intervention plans targeting the decoding and phonological processes of written language (Phillips & Odegard, 2017).
Dyslexia a neurobiological disorder that affects reading and spelling performance in individuals with high, normal or low intelligence, and is independent of general cognitive function. It is characterized by inaccurate and dysfluent reading, slow response to instruction and diminished decoding aptitude (Shaywitz, 1998). The condition is rooted in decreased phonological awareness and ability to manipulate sounds and symbols (Phillips & Odegard, 2017). Some studies suggest that other characteristics may include impairments in working memory, short-term visuospacial memory or visual processing imbalances between the visual fields resulting in clustering, visual fixation and distortion of phonemic and graphemic sequencing perception in words (Schneps, et al., 2013). While the causes, characteristics and definition of dyslexia are unsettled in the scientific community, phonological processing and awareness deficits are settled components of the diagnosis (Peterson & Pennington, 2007).
People with dyslexia comprise between 5% (Shaywitz, 1998) and 20% (Youman & Mather, 2013) of the general population. Early intervention vastly improves reading and related learning outcomes for those individuals (Youman & Mather, 2013). Considering the prevalence and impact of the disorder, as well as the demonstrated value of early intervention, dyslexia laws address a vital need in public education. However, the lack of demonstrable improvement in student reading performance in states with dyslexia laws is both curious and concerning.
An explanation for the apparent inefficacy of dyslexia laws may assist law makers across the country in their efforts to serve the needs of students with dyslexia. No published study has explored factors that may account for the lack of effect of any state’s dyslexia law. The present study pertains specifically to Missouri’s recently enacted dyslexia law but will hopefully contribute to a knowledgebase of more general relevance and application.
Pursuant to section 633.420 (1) of the 2016 Missouri Revised Statutes, dyslexia is defined as:
“a disorder that is neurological in origin, characterized by difficulties with accurate and fluent word recognition, and poor spelling and decoding abilities that typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language, often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction, and of which secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”
This statute created the Legislative Task Force (LTF) to report to the governor, joint committee on education and other agencies on issues affecting people with dyslexia in education and other settings. The law requires the joint committee on education to support and assist the LTF, financially and otherwise, with technical and administrative issues as needed to fulfill its duties (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 633.420.1, 2016).
The LTF consists of twenty-one members with different backgrounds and areas of expertise pertaining to dyslexia and the screening, diagnosis, education and treatment for people who have the condition or a significantly similar behavior and performance profile (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 633.420.3, 2016). Among those representatives are a certified academic language therapist, a diagnostician of dyslexia, a pediatrician with knowledge of dyslexia, a representative from a state teacher’s association or the Missouri National Education Association, and a speech-language pathologist (SLP). The SLP serving as a representative is required to have training and experience in early literacy development and effective research-based intervention techniques for dyslexia, including an Orton-Gillingham (OG) remediation program recommended by the Missouri Speech-Language Hearing Association (MSHA) (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 633.420.3, 2016).
The LTF’s contributions form the foundation of a universally applicable policy across Missouri for the systematic identification, intervention and support for students with dyslexia. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 633.420.5, 2016). The policy describes various characteristics of dyslexia and recommends various accommodations, teaching methods and resources that should be considered in screening and intervention. However, the scope of intervention addressed in the recommendations is limited and does not describe the circumstances in which teachers should consider consultation with other professionals or referrals for therapeutic intervention.
SLPs are uniquely qualified to screen for dyslexia and provide therapeutic intervention based on their robust understanding of communication disorders and the various components, facets and nuances of oral and written language. Per the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, the country’s primary credentialing and professional organization in speech-language pathology, “[SLPs] play a critical and direct role in the development of literacy for children and adolescents with communication disorders, including those with severe or multiple disabilities. SLPs also make a contribution to the literacy efforts of a school district or community on behalf of other children and adolescents (ASHA, 2018).” SLPs are present in every public school across Missouri. Teachers and administrators should consider the potential value such a powerful and accessible resource for teacher education and student screening and intervention for written language disorders. A lack of appreciation for the role of the SLP may indicate a more general lack of understanding with respect to the written communication issues which are the intended target of Missouri’s dyslexia law. Failing to rely on the SLPs expertise in relevant screening and intervention may directly deprive some students of valuable therapeutic assistance.
One purpose of this study is to determine the extent, if any, to which SLP involvement in Missouri dyslexia programs affects reading achievement outcomes. The other is to determine whether mere appreciation of the SLP’s role in dyslexia screening and intervention correlates with improved performance.
This study relies on data collected from surveys completed by teachers and SLPs in various school districts across Missouri. The teacher’s survey consists of ratings on a scale of one to five regarding the teacher’s perceived value of SLP inclusion in teacher education and student screening and intervention for dyslexia. The SLP surveys asks school-based SLPs whether they are involved in screening or intervention for dyslexia within their respective districts. The survey results are matched to the school district in which each teacher or SLP is employed. The results are then compared with each district’s standardized test scores in reading to determine whether general reading improvement in each district corelates with SLP involvement or even appreciation of the SLP’s expertise in written language disorders. Positive correlation between improved outcomes and SLP involvement or SLP appreciation may suggest that SLP inclusion is the missing link between state legislation and improved student outcomes.
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- American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (2018). Preferred practice patterns for the profession of speech-language pathology. Retrieved from https://www.asha.org/policy/PP2004-00191/#sec1.3.18
- American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (2018). Roles and responsibilities of speech-language pathologists with respect to reading and writing in children and adolescents. Retrieved from https://www.asha.org/policy/PS2001-00104.htm
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- Missouri Department of Elementary & Secondary Education (2018). Serving students at-risk for dyslexia. Retrieved from https://dese.mo.gov/sites/default/files/curr-dyslexia-serving-students-at-risk-lea-guidance.pdf
- Montani, V., Facoetti, A., & Zorzi, M. (2015). The effect of decreased interletter spacing on orthographic processing. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 22(3), 824-832. Retrieved from https://library.semo.edu:2443/login?url=https://library.semo.edu:4836/docview/1680765863?accountid=38003
- Missouri Revised Statute § 633.420 (2016).
- Peterson, R. L., & Pennington, B. F. (2012). Developmental dyslexia. The Lancet, 379(9830), 1997-2007. doi:http://library.semo.edu:2275/10.1016/S0140-6736(12)60198-6
- Phillips, B. & Odegard, T. N. (2017). Evaluating the impact of dyslexia laws on the identification of specific learning disability and dyslexia. Annals of Dyslexia, , 1-13. doi:http://library.semo.edu:2275/10.1007/s11881-017-0148
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- Ritchey, K. D., & Goeke, J. L. (2006). Orton-Gillingham and Orton-Gillingham-based reading instruction: A review of the literature. The Journal of Special Education, 40(3), 171-183. doi:http://library.semo.edu:2275/10.1177/00224669060400030501
- Schneps, M. H., Thomson, J. M., Sonnert, G., Pomplun, M., Chen, C., & Heffner-Wong, A. (2013). Shorter lines facilitate reading in those who struggle. PLoS One, 8(8) doi:http://library.semo.edu:2275/10.1371/journal.pone.0071161
- Shaywitz, S. E. (1998). Dyslexia. New England Journal of Medicine, 338, 307–312. https://doi.org/10.1056 /NEJM199801293380507
- Wegner, R. (2018, February 26). Missouri tackles challenge of dyslexia screening services. Retrieved from https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2018/02/28/missouri-tackles-challenge-of-dyslexia-screening-services.html
- Youman, M., & Mather, N. (2013). Dyslexia laws in the USA. Annals of Dyslexia, 63(2), 133-53. doi:http://library.semo.edu:2275/10.1007/s11881-012-0076-2
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