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Ohio legislator pushing dyslexia-screening bill has personal connection - News - The Columbus Dispatch


An Ohio legislator with a family connection to dyslexia wants to make sure that all public and charter school students are screened for the common learning disorder.

Rep. Brian Baldridge, R-Winchester, and his wife, Lori Baldridge, an educator, discovered that their daughter Alyson had dyslexia when she was in third grade — late enough that it posed a risk to her development.

Dyslexia is a neurological disorder found in 1 in 5 people and is estimated to affect nearly 350,000 Ohio children, according to the International Dyslexia Association of Central Ohio. It is characterized by difficulties with word recognition and poor spelling.

“We spent years searching for solutions, and watching in anguish, as our daughter would struggle through her schoolwork,” Lori Baldridge said. “Even though her dyslexia can still affect her, she now has the skills to be able to tackle those challenges. If we could have identified her condition earlier, her treatment would have been significantly easier.”

With private assistance, Alyson Tamanko, who is now married, was able to overcome the disorder and achieve success in life, Lori Baldridge said.

Brian Baldridge’s experience with his daughter inspired him to pursue legislation that would require schools — public and charter — to screen all kindergartners through fifth graders for reading disorders each year.

House Bill 436 would establish the Ohio Dyslexia Committee, which would be made up of appointees of the dyslexia association and the Ohio Department of Education. This group would create a guidebook for school districts on how to administer dyslexia screenings.

IDA of Central Ohio President Mike McGovern said the guidebook would not establish which specific or proprietary screening process a school district should use, but rather would set guidelines for screening. McGovern said the guidebook could be updated as more advanced screening processes and developments in special literacy programs emerge.

“We don’t want to get into heavy-duty specifics and details because specifics change,” McGovern said.

Dyslexia experts agree that it is vital to detect dyslexia in a child as early as possible. From 2011 to 2014, the state education department collaborated with the University of Cincinnati on a pilot program of dyslexia screening and special literacy education in select school districts across the state. The study concluded that there were marked improvements in reading comprehension after the third year of the program, and consistent scores after the fourth year.

HB 436 also would require educators in grades 4-12 to use mandatory continuing professional-development time to take course in dyslexia and structured literacy education.

During a Senate Education Committee hearing on a similar Senate bill last week, a group representing school administrators expressed concern that the bill did not include extra funds for screening and professional development for instructors. Costs could approach $2.6 million over the first three years, legislative analysts said.

Brian Baldridge said that screening is already low-cost (as little as $1) and that some comprehensive screening tools are free.

He added that he’s been in local government and understands an aversion to what could be perceived as an unfunded mandate, but he said school funding for dyslexia initiatives will be a cost-saving measure for the education system and parents.

“If we can diagnose those kids, they don’t cost us extra time and money down the road,” Brian Baldridge said.

McGovern said that school budgets already pay for continuing education and professional development as part of state law, so funding could be redirected toward continuing education in dyslexia.

“It’s a switch from program A to program B,” McGovern said of continuing education. “If you’re already doing it, instead of spending on this, we’re going to spend on that.”

Genelle Eggerton, principal of Western Elementary School in Lexington and a dyslexia educator, testified before the House Health Committee and concurred with Brian Baldridge that the bill is not an unfunded mandate.

Her small village school implemented a dyslexia program and has trained 10 staff members “by reallocating funds … and making quality professional development and early screening a priority.”

Cole Behrens is a fellow at the E.W. Scripps Statehouse News Bureau.

cbehrens@dispatch.com

@colebehr_report

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