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Screening students for dyslexia now required for early grades

Julie Dubray, co-author of the children's book "Goodnight St. Louis," reads to students at Koch Elementary School in Unincorporated St. Louis County on March 2, 2017.
File photo | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio
Julie Dubray, co-author of the children's book "Goodnight St. Louis," reads to students at Koch Elementary School in March 2017 in unincorporated north St. Louis County.

Kelli Unnerstall’s son showed signs of dyslexia in kindergarten but was not formally diagnosed until fourth grade. In the meantime, “his frustration with school was growing every year,” she said.

“He hated reading. We were worried about him focusing. And unfortunately for my son, he was exhibiting all the characteristics of dyslexia back in kindergarten,” said Unnerstall, who is a co-founder of Decoding Dyslexia Missouri, a parent-advocacy group that pushed for the law.

Starting this school year, kindergarten through third graders in all Missouri public schools will go through a brief screening for warning signs of dyslexia. It’s part of a 2016 law that advocates say will give students the help they need sooner.

Dyslexia is a neurological disorder. People have difficulty identifying language sounds in speech or text. It can cause students to fall behind in school because they’re unable to keep up with reading comprehension while still being bright in other areas.

The brief screenings will be done every year from kindergarten until third grade, according to Kim Stuckey, dyslexia specialist with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

All K-12 classroom teachers will participate in at least two hours of training each year on dyslexia. Stuckey said the department is providing training materials, but districts can bring in additional resources.

The law also creates a definition of dyslexia, which parents and educators said has improved understanding of the disorder.

“The law brought the topic (of dyslexia) to the forefront,” said Carla Ezell, a speech and language administrator at Special School District, which provides special education services for students in St. Louis County.

Students who show indicators of dyslexia will get more classroom resources, but Ezell said further screening for a formal diagnosis is still needed.

Having teachers better trained on helping students with dyslexia will benefit all kids in the classroom, said Mollie Bolton, a curriculum coordinator for Special School District.

“It will help us be a stronger education community,” she said.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.