This fall, 20 new teachers and dyslexia assessors should be in place to provide faster diagnosis for students with dyslexia — and faster support for their learning — in the Killeen Independent School District.
The district announced in May it plans to hire 20 new teachers and dyslexia assessors starting next year to improve the district’s program.
The hiring effort was recommended by a special Dyslexia Focus Group, school officials said. A collection of district teachers and administrators conducted a review of the dyslexia program during the 2017-18 school year.
KISD says new dyslexia teachers and assessors will provide speedier diagnosis and faster learning support for students who are dyslexic.
The focus group found that 1,074 KISD students were assessed for dyslexia in the 2016-17 school year. About 45,000 students are expected to be enrolled in KISD during the next school year.
The salaries of the 14 dyslexia teachers are $60,000 each, totalling $840,000. The salaries of the six technicians are $32,000 each, totalling $192,000. That brings the total salaries for the 20 positions to $1,032,000.
The six technician positions will be located in central administration facilities and working from there with all schools that provide dyslexia program services.
Compensatory education funds from the state, provided by the Texas Education Agency, will fund 10 of the teaching positions. The other 10 positions will be funded from the regular general fund budget in the same way all other positions are funded.
Some say the million-dollar effort is a start.
Catherine Michael, an education attorney, has represented several parents who have children with dyslexia in KISD, in addition to many districts across Texas and other states. A benefit to representing parents in several areas, she said, is to observe and compare different districts, weighing what some do better than others.
Though she called the approval of more staff huge on the district’s part, more specialized programs need to be brought into KISD schools, Michael said.
“The biggest things (in Texas are) a lack of training in schools for professionals, a lack of good reading programs and the failure to truly recognize dyslexia as something that needs to be addressed from the time child gets in school system and once they leave,” Michael said.
She added that every teacher in every classroom should have more training to recognize how to instruct students with any learning disability.
Michael said Texas has one of the lowest rates in the nation of diagnosing whether students have a learning disability.
“We’re talking about a really large number of students who need assistance,” Michael said. “We’re making a little dent to a very big problem. I think we need to have a much more comprehensive approach.”
KISD is making strides, Michael said, but more needs to be done to ensure parents aren’t pushed to spend a large amount of money fighting with the school district over whether their children have dyslexia.
Michael said it would be unfair to isolate KISD — Texas as a state isn’t in good shape compared to the rest of the nation, she said.
Attorney Sonja Kerr, who works with Michael, attended the Luke McGrew Special Education Seminar May 20 at Texas A&M University-Central Texas in Killeen. A portion of that seminar focused on dyslexia.
Kerr said the state’s current dyslexia law disadvantages a significant amount of the student population with undiagnosed or mistreated dyslexia. Parents in many Texas school districts pursue specialized learning for their students outside of the public education system, costing them thousands each year.
“This a huge potential problem with parents paying to get the services they should be getting in public schools,” Kerr said. “We need the state to step up.”
Kerr said around 20 percent of the population has some degree of dyslexia.
Current dyslexia curriculum will not be affected, according to KISD. The district will continue to support reading instruction for students with dyslexia using the Wilson Reading Method — a method Michael approved.
Stephanie Moody, a KISD parent who has two children with dyslexia, called the Wilson Reading Method “amazing,” but the district’s implementation of it needs work, she said.
Teachers can be certified to teach the Wilson Reading Method in different tiers. Moody and her husband, however, have questioned why many staff in the dyslexia program don’t have higher certification for Wilson Reading Method than Level 1.
Moody said, after meeting with staff, she questions whether KISD provides enough incentive to get certified beyond Level 1.
“It’s not enough,” Moody said on the 20 potential new-hires for next school year. “It’s of course better, but we need them to have more training, work with teachers more and kids need more services.”
What’s more: It’s a rough transition from elementary to middle school for children with dyslexia, Moody said.
Moody voluntarily removed her son from seventh-grade dyslexia programming because she said he was ahead of most of the students in his class.
Dyslexia teachers have to meet the needs of the child with the most needs, according to Moody. Students in the class her son was formerly in, for instance, still had to learn letter sounds. That’s a skill Moody’s son has already advanced beyond, she said.
Student groups go from small groups in elementary school to much larger groups in middle school, she said.
“The program right now is not great,” Moody said. “Dyslexias looks different for all students.”