City schools get jump start on dyslexia screenings

Katelyn Umholtz | The Valdosta Daily TimesMatthew Carter, an associate professor at Valdosta State University, plans to give future dyslexia screenings at Valdosta City Schools. He gives an example of a literacy test to Ryon Johns Jr., 5, who is a future Valdosta City Schools kindergartner. Ryon does not have dyslexia.

VALDOSTA — City school officials have made no secret that a literacy problem exists on their campuses.

With new legislation — SB 48 and HB 40, to be exact — and below reading level literacy scores, the system administration is looking at any way it can solve the problem, including providing dyslexia screenings.

“We’re trying to get ahead of the curve,” Valdosta School Superintendent Dr. Todd Cason said. “We’re not really sure if we have a large problem of dyslexic children, but we do know we are working feverishly to improve literacy in our schools. Maybe the data we receive will help us do that.”

To do so, Valdosta City Schools is partnering with Valdosta State University to provide dyslexia screenings starting as early as September.

The screenings will be available to all consenting kindergarten students in the city school system. The tests will be administered twice to each student, and there is a possibility to test more than 650 students. 

Tests will pinpoint dyslexia at-risk children, said Matthew Carter, VSU associate professor, but it will also serve as an indicator of literacy issues even if a child doesn’t show signs of dyslexia.

“It’s an in-depth literacy screening,” Carter said. “Regardless of the reasons why the students have trouble reading, we want to help (city schools) with that. When we can identify those that are young, the success rates go up astronomically.”

Carter was able to secure full grant funding from Scottish Rite of Albany, before presenting the idea to city school officials.

For Carter, offering screenings to the school system is somewhat personal for him. Not only are communication disorders his chosen study, but he has three children who attend Valdosta City Schools and three who will eventually be students.

“I would like (my kids) to have the greatest level of education,” Carter said. “I also know many of these teachers and would like to give them the tools to succeed.”

SB 48, which will require Georgia local school systems to provide dyslexia screenings, won’t technically require the tests widespread until the 2024-25 school year to give systems time to adjust to the new law.

Cason said he wants to get started early; the partnership should allows city schools to get their ducks in a row and figure out what professional learning opportunities their teachers need.

He also wants city schools to be considered as a pilot program under the new law.

“Hopefully with our partnership with VSU, it gives us a better opportunity to be part of the pilot program,” Cason said. “Three districts will be identified, and they will in turn work with the state department to provide screenings to their kindergartners. We hope professional learning will be provided to our teachers, too.”

Katelyn Umholtz is a reporter with the Valdosta Daily Times. She can be contacted at (229)244-3400 ext. 1256.

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