My Name is Liz Hembling and I’m here to report on Baltimore County’s efforts to identify and provide early interventions for struggling readers and students with dyslexia:
When I started this journey, parents were fighting to even use the word dyslexia in Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS). I am happy to report that so much has changed.
BCPS has a head of English Language Arts who you will hear from later today. Her name is Megan Shay. They also have a head of Special Education (Rebecca Rider.) Those departments traditionally worked in silos. Ms. Shay and Ms. Rider decided to join forces and work together to address the dyslexia and reading failure issue in the school system. Together they developed a comprehensive plan to screen, identify, and remediate those children in early grades who have trouble with reading.
Ms. Rider and Shay decided to focus heavily on grades k-2. They wanted all classroom teachers to have a basic understanding of structured literacy so they can identify kids who may be struggling in their classrooms. They trained 807 teachers in LETRS, a course designed by expert Louisa Moats, to accomplish this goal.
They are using Dibels to screen all children early. All kindergarteners are universally screened for reading failure using DIBELS in Fall, winter, and spring. They will continue to screen in first grade if a problem is suspected. The idea is that any child flagged with an issue could receive appropriate instruction without delay.
Shay and Rider also started an ambitious plan to train certain educators in Orton Gillingham. They initially trained 61 teachers, and then expanded the program to 95 so that every elementary and middle school has an OG trained educator. They plan to expand even further. The person who has been training their staff is none other than Fran Bowman. Fran is a fellow in the Academy of Orton Gillingham Practitioners and Educators and is considered one of the highly regarded experts in this field. The feedback from BCPS teachers who have taken her course is outstanding. We are hearing reports from teachers who are now making more progress with their students in several months after receiving her course than they have in several years with the same student.
This training has had an amazing impact on the students in our county. I want to read you a letter from one mom so you have an idea of how these investments are impacting families in our schools:
LETTER FROM A MOM: CHEYANNE’S PROGRESS LEARNING TO READ: THANK YOU BCPS
All through kindergarten, Cheyanne received special education and was pulled put for reading and math. After a year she could only read 4 words: The, A, And, and She.
We practiced at home and wrote words to memorize them; but she wasn’t learning. Cheyanne was severely behind all of the other kids in her class. I was so upset.
Fast forward to 1st grade. At the first IEP meeting of the year, our case manager agreed that Cheyanne wasn’t making progress. She suggested that we begin with an Orton Gillingham based approach to reading instruction. I had never heard of OG, so after researching it I noticed it was to go-to approach for students with dyslexia.
Cheyanne’s special education teacher invited me to observe a lesson. I was crying tears of joy because I had never seen my 6 year old read a sentence on her own. They were very focused on each other, it was one on one, and fast moving. Allowing me to watch was great because now I know how to help her at home. Thank you Baltimore County.
In three months using Orton Gillingham methods, she has learned to read more words than she learned over the entire year on Kindergarten and the first few months of 1st grade. Cheyanne can now read words like mat, mop, mob, and with.
I don’t know how else she would learn to read without this knowledgeable teacher. I am grateful for her special educator – we finally have hope; we finally have something that works; we finally have identified dyslexia! Structured literacy programs, like Orton Gillingham, saved my daughter’s life.