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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Missing dyslexia

Schools are failing to diagnose dyslexia, which makes it hard for as many as 20 percent of students to master reading, writes Sarah Carr in the Hechinger Report. Only a fraction of students get the help they need.

Thousands of schools use a variation of the outdated"discrepancy model" to test for learning disabilities. The model compares a child's IQ score to his reading level.

"Despite the fact that most youngsters can learn to read regardless of their IQ score, those with lower scores were often assumed to lack the “smarts” to read well," Carr writes.

“It’s unfair, it’s discriminatory, and it disadvantages already economically disadvantaged kids,” said Jack Fletcher, co-founder of the Texas Center for Learning Disabilities in Houston.

The "scientific consensus against the discrepancy model has grown" in the last 30 years, writes Carr. "One study found that regardless of their IQ, poor readers benefit from specialized reading instruction and support at statistically identical levels."

“Dyslexia can occur in people of high, middle and low cognitive abilities,” noted Nadine Gaab, an associate professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

By the 2000s, researchers warned that the discrepancy model "disproportionately prevented low-income children and children of color from getting help with learning disabilities," because disadvantaged children tend to have lower IQs. The federal government, which had recommended the discrepancy model in 1977, changed course in 2004 and urged schools to find alternatives.

"But a 2018 study found that about one third of school psychologists were still using the discrepancy model to screen students for learning disabilities," writes Carr.

“It reminds me of leeching blood,” said Tiffany Hogan, a professor and director of the Speech & Language Literacy Lab at the MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston. “They did that for a long time knowing it wasn’t the best way, but there was no replacement.”

Researchers would like schools to provide -- or pay for -- testing by neuropsychologists. But that's expensive. Furthermore, writes Carr, "many schools feel pressure, both covert and overt, to not identify children with dyslexia because there aren’t enough specialists or teachers trained to work with them."

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