Board members of the Rapid City Area Schools grappled Tuesday night with the difficulties encountered as educators try to find the right way to diagnose and handle students with the reading disability known as dyslexia.
Board member Dave Davis asked the district's special-education coordinator Troy Volesky, “Is there a simple (diagnostic) test and a simple solution?”
The simple answer, Volesky said, is no, there is not a test tailored to screening specifically for dyslexia in the Rapid City School district, though he spoke at length about how dyslexia can be identified by the methodology already in place in the district.
School board President Jim Hansen and board member Kate Thomas both have children with diagnoses of dyslexia who had to enroll in private school for a time to get the help they needed.
Thomas noted that screening kids for learning disabilities like dyslexia with IQ tests is a flawed method, as dyslexia has nothing to do with IQ.
When her son was screened using an IQ test in the Rapid City School District, Thomas said “He was too smart. His IQ was too high.” Teachers tried to help, but without addressing the dyslexia head on.
“He fell through the cracks,” Thomas said.
Thomas was a strong supporter of House Bill 1198, sponsored by state Rep. Lynne DiSanto, R-Rapid City. Her bill would have required South Dakota school districts to create screening and instructional tools specific to dyslexia above and beyond state and federal guidelines. Having the additional screening and tools is established practice in 28 states across the U.S., according to a report released by the International Dyslexia Association this January.
HB 1198 failed, but was passed on for review by the Senate Education Committee to a summer study group coordinated by the South Dakota Department of Education. The South Dakota Department of Education lobbied against HB 1198.
Thomas and the other supporters of HB 1198 are adamant that additional screening procedures for dyslexia are necessary in South Dakota’s schools, but Volesky insists that additional tests aren’t necessary, and that the existing process for identifying learning disabilities is adequate, and does not rely solely on IQ tests.
If a student exhibits signs of learning trouble, Volesky said, an intervention specialist is brought in to assist him or her. If the intervention fails, then an IQ test is administered, and further intervention may or may not be necessary.
From a budget standpoint, board member Davis said it would not be feasible to screen every student specifically for dyslexia.
“There is just not one silver bullet out there,” Volesky said.