Carmen McKoy, a Kershaw mother of five, is worried a state literacy law will spell trouble for children like hers.
McKoy, who has children in Lancaster County schools, learned a few years ago that her two youngest have dyslexia, a learning disability.
Starting this school year, South Carolina third-graders who struggle to read on grade level could be forced to repeat the grade.
It’s a measure designed to ensure students don’t move on before they are ready, said Ryan Brown, spokesperson for S.C. Department of Education.
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“The reasoning behind the third-grade retention policy is to prevent students from being advanced to a higher grade before they have the skills necessary to be successful,” Brown said.
State law will require third-grade students who score lowest on the state’s reading assessment to be retained, starting in 2017-18, unless they meet an exemption.
McKoy’s son, a rising fourth-grader, was diagnosed with dyslexia in first grade after struggling to read. McKoy, who has three other children, said she worked with her son just as she had with her older children.
“I couldn’t understand why he was not getting it,” she said.
Dyslexia is a learning disability that can affect reading fluency, writing, spelling and reading comprehension. Signs of dyslexia include difficulty pronouncing words, learning the alphabet and remembering the name and shape of letters, according to the International Dyslexia Association.
McKoy said both her son and a younger daughter, a rising second-grader who has dyslexia, do well in other areas.
“You wouldn’t know they are dyslexic,” she said.
McKoy said she is concerned the law will harm children with reading disorders. McKoy said the law could have affected her son if it had been in place last year.
“I have a huge problem with someone trying to hold my student back when it won’t do anything but harm his chances of graduating high school,” she said. “More time isn’t going to help a dyslexic student.”
More time isn’t going to help a dyslexic student.
Carmen McKoy, Lancaster County parent
McKoy said Lancaster County teachers have done well by her children.
“We’ve been so blessed,” she said. “They have helped my children tremendously.”
However, McKoy said she wants to ensure the law does not harm students who may “fall through the cracks.”
“There is so much we don’t know (about dyslexia),” she said. “I don’t want to see those children not graduate. Retention should be the last resort.”
Cases for exemptions
There are exemptions to the retention law. McKoy said both of her children with dyslexia have Individual Education Plans, or IEPs, which call for them to receive extra help in reading. That is one of the exemptions outlined in the law.
Other exemptions allow students to move on if they show improvement in summer reading camps or received intensive help in reading for more than two years but have not achieved reading proficiency, according to S.C. Department of Education.
While exemptions are done on a case-by-case basis, children with reading disorders like dyslexia “absolutely can qualify for an exemption, based upon having a reading disorder,” Brown said.
However, dyslexia may not always be addressed through the official IEP part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, he said.
“Is there more that can be done? Yes,” Brown said.
To be considered a student with a disability, a child must both meet the definition of a category of disability and need special services because of that disability, according to IDEA. Dyslexia and dysgraphia, or difficulty writing, fall under the category of Specific Learning Disability, said Amy Maziarz, executive director of special services for Fort Mill school district.
Having a diagnosis does not make students automatically eligible for special education services under IDEA, she said.
Students who may have dyslexia and/or dysgraphia, but are considered as not needing special education and related services based on their level of performance, would not fall under IDEA or meet the criteria for that exemption to retention, Maziarz said.
There have recently been such cases in the Fort Mill school district. A Fort Mill mother pulled her dyslexic son from public school after failed attempts at getting him help as he did well in other areas.
In recent years, there has been a push for more training on recognizing and helping students with disorders such as dyslexia and dysgraphia, Brown said.
State Rep. Raye Felder, R-Fort Mill, cosponsored a Joint Resolution, signed into law in May 2016, requiring the Department of Education to provide training to all kindergarten through third-grade literacy coaches, interventionists and teachers dealing with dyslexia-related reading disorders.
Under the resolution, applicable teachers, literacy coaches and specialists had to complete online training before the school year, or before Aug. 15, 2016.
The online modules, each about 18 minutes, train teachers on what dyslexia is, how to screen students for dyslexia and other reading disorders, and about evidence-based instruction for students with dyslexia, according to the state department of education.
“There is a heightened awareness of identifying students with reading disorders like dyslexia,” Brown said. “They are catching (those students) a lot earlier than they have in the past.”
There is a heightened awareness of identifying students with reading disorders like dyslexia.
Ryan Brown, S.C. Department of Education
Brown said reading disorders are one thing schools consider when looking at retention.
“The whole point of this is to look at students on an individual basis,” he said. “We want to help them and have the tools to address their individual needs.”
Amanda Harris: 803-329-4082