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The Science of Reading: Schools taking direct aim at challenges posed by dyslexia

The Science of Reading: Schools tackling dyslexia head-on
The Science of Reading: Schools tackling dyslexia head-on 03:51

NEW YORK - When kids fall behind on their reading, it can be easy to blame the school, the teachers or even the curriculum, and while sometimes bad instruction is to blame, undiagnosed dyslexia can be at the heart of the issue. 

If you know something is wrong, getting a diagnosis can be scary, but sometimes there's a sense of relief, because it's hard to fix a problem before you know what it is. 

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Chalkbeat New York

It's the same with dyslexia, but getting a diagnosis is harder than it should be. 

"I got better and better. To know how to read more," one student said. 

Students at P.S. 125 in Harlem, one of the first city public schools to give teachers intensive training when it comes to reading, was chosen by the city to spearhead a dyslexia pilot program in 2022. 

"We've created individual literacy plans for every child," Principal Yael Leopold said. 

Not every school is as far along in the process. The city has increased screenings and interventions, but a formal diagnosis comes out of the classroom, and out of pocket. 

"I was able to get him a neuro-psych evaluation, which is very expensive and not attainable for many families,"  parent Jenny Ulloa said. 

They can cost around $10,000. The good news? Places like the South Bronx Literacy Academy are here to help, diagnosis or not. 

"We're not necessarily screening for dyslexia, but markers of dyslexia or common at-risk factors," said South Bronx Literacy Academy Principal Bethany Poolman. 

It's not just reading - it's children's happiness, their ability to enjoy life. School used to be an anxious place for them, but a little bit of success can change that.

"I just started having more good days," second grader Kaseam Moore said. 

"There's a lot of anxiety. A lot of emotions. And now, when we don't have school, they're sad. They want to come to school," SBLA teacher Gerald Charles said. "It's just a good feeling." 

It's the first school of its kind, accepting students with all types of reading challenges. 

"I think people think of dyslexia and they think of letter reversals. But dyslexia is really a learning difficulty, primarily evidenced by difficulty in reading, decoding accurately and fluently, as well as writing," Poolman said. 

"The other school that my parents were putting me in, I had a lot of hard times reading," third grader Rylee Hunt said. "If you just try and quit when you can't get a word right, you're not gonna learn how to read. But if you keep trying and trying you're gonna get better."

So much of this is about equality and imbalanced access to a quality education. Experts say reading proficiency at the start of the fourth grade are a key indicator of whether a child will graduate from high school. 

Nationwide in 2022, only 14% of Black fourth grade students across the country were reading at or above grade level. 

P.S. 125 and SBLA are doing everything they can to change that around here. 

Head to Chalkbeat New York to find more of our combined reporting.   

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