BY MEG HESSER
Did you know less than half, 43 percent, to be exact, of fourth graders in Laramie County School District 1 (LCSD1) are reading to grade level proficiency or above?
These numbers are from the 2019 Wyoming Test of Proficiency and Progress (WY-TOPP). Knowing that nearly all of the other 57percent are struggling readers and will likely leave high school still struggling, I have to ask: Are you OK with this? I’m not.
A proficient fourth-grade reader will almost always be a proficient twelfth-grade reader, and a struggling fourth-grade reader will almost always leave high school still struggling.
Studies from Francis et al. (1996) and Shaywitz et al. (1999) establish that fourth-grade reading scores indicate the level of reading proficiency a child will graduate high school with 90percent of the time. Cunningham & Stanovich (1997) found even first grade reading levels to be a strong predictor of high school reading outcomes.
My family has spent the last eight months immersed in the science behind struggling readers because we realized, just after Christmas, our first-grade son might be dyslexic. We brought it to his teacher’s attention and were politely brushed off.
We had someone with a masters degree in reading science administer a set of early literacy screeners to him outside of school. This screener identified him as “most likely dyslexic.”
Short of paying a psychologist in Denver thousands of dollars, that is as close to a diagnosis as anyone can get. We used our data to push harder with the school and our son was able to see the school’s well-trained reading interventionist.
We learned that interventionist has to split her time with two schools and could only see four kids from his entire first-grade class of over 50 students. It’s widely accepted that 15-20 percent of the population is dyslexic, which would mean that 8-10 students in the first grade where my son attends school are definitely struggling readers but may very well be dyslexic too.
I don’t know about you but if I saw anyone’s child struggling in the water without a lifejacket I would jump in to help. Our school district isn’t handing out enough lifejackets, choosing to watch our students fail.
Wyoming state law requires all K-3 students be screened for “signs of dyslexia and other reading difficulties.” The law, which has been in place since 2012, requires schools to implement an evidence-based intervention program and also requires students not showing appropriate reading competence to be placed on individualized reading plans.
School districts must report to the Wyoming Department of Education on each school’s progress toward achieving 85 percent of students reading at grade level upon the completion of third grade and must also report the aggregate number of students identified as having signs of dyslexia or other reading difficulties.
With a law like this in our state, we wondered why we had to be the ones to push our son’s school to get him the help he needs.
We started asking LCSD1 administrators questions. Why were we the ones to identify our son? What screener did you use to assess him? What were his results? What programs and curriculum are you using for reading in the classroom? Why aren’t your teachers trained to know what dyslexia looks like? Why don’t you have more reading interventionists? Why aren’t all of your teachers and schools using the reading program with fidelity? How many students were identified as having reading difficulties?
After hearing a list of politically correct non-answers, we finally got a solid answer to the number of students identified with signs of dyslexia or other reading difficulties in our district. As reported through Galileo, the 2019 universal screener test implemented by our district, 484 out of 994 kindergartners were identified as were 461 out of 1006 first graders, 464 out of 963 second graders and 492 out of 993 third graders.
That is 48 percent of all K-3 students failing to read at their grade level.
We have a serious problem. And that problem, which begins in early elementary school, will impact the struggling readers throughout their lives. It doesn’t matter if you are upper class or lower, struggling to read impacts children equally across the board.
And it only gets worse. The district’s choice of screening software, Galileo, doesn’t meet the requirements of the law as a screener. The district will now be adding a reading fluency screener, DIBELS, which is the screening that identified our son, starting this fall.
But this begs the question: How many more will they identify this fall?
Right now, 1,901 parents should be aware their son or daughter is struggling with reading. If your child is struggling but nothing is being done, you should be upset and asking questions like we did.
The LCSD1 administration, and every school in LCSD1, has a lot of work to do to ensure its evidence-based reading and intervention program is implemented with fidelity. LCSD1 has many of the right tools to accomplish this and to help improve the numbers. But as with many things in the district, there is a lack of implementation, accountability and proper communication regarding these tools.
LCSD1 purchased the Fundations program for K-2 classrooms. It is respected phonics program developed by the Wilson Company. If our schools and teachers were comfortable using it and used it with fidelity as intended, our reading scores would already be higher.
Despite this program, they are still grading on an old system that does not match and is not evidence-based. They use one of the best trainings, LETRS, for the reading interventionists but we don’t have enough of them. Teachers can also get this training, but the waitlist is so long it could take them years to be trained.
If 15-20 percent of the population is dyslexic, why are half our students struggling to read? It is not because they aren’t trying hard enough and it is not because they can’t learn. It’s because they need to be taught the right way with fidelity.
If you have ever had the thought that something isn’t quite right with your child’s reading or writing, don’t be afraid to ask tough questions and keep asking. Trust your instincts.
Reading more at home is important but does not magically catch them up. Everyone deserves to be properly taught how to read. Everyone deserves the quiet confidence knowing how to read well imparts, not the anxiety and failure so many of our children are living with.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP?
There are lots of ways to get involved so we can get our kids out of these deep waters. Calling or emailing the LSCD1 administration and school board are a great place to start or you can contact me directly. I’m happy to talk about other ways you can help.
The district isn’t going to listen until enough of us speak up. Please help your child, my child and all children in LCSD1 get the lifejackets they need to succeed in school and life.
Megan Hesser is a concerned parent of a student in Laramie County School District 1. To email her, write to Megan.Hesser@gmail.com