Upper Arlington City Schools will intensify intervention services for dyslexic and autistic students through early and more comprehensive testing, pursuing additional training for teachers and by creating an autism task force.
Kevin Gorman, director of intervention services, said 623 students are currently on individualized educational plans (IEPs) in the special education program. He said 143 students are on what are called "504 plans," for children who have medical disabilities.
"We need to identify the children who need help very early, especially with the state's third-grade reading guarantee coming up," he said.
Ohio's third-grade reading guarantee is designed to make sure students who cannot read at their grade level by third grade are not passed on to the next grade until they receive extensive reading intervention.
Gorman said kindergarten teachers are studying and referring to the book Overcoming Dyslexia by Dr. Sally Shaywitz, co-director of the Yale Center for the Study of Learning and Attention.
The district will also give all kindergarten students the Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing (CTOPP). The test will be given to all new students and at-risk first grade students the week of Sept. 23.
"We have five full-time Orton-Gillingham (OG) instructors serving the district and five additional intervention specialists will be receiving OG training this year at the Dublin Dyslexia Center," Gorman said.
He said Orton-Gilligham is a multi-sensory, phonics approach to teaching reading, designed to help reduce the number of children struggling with reading, writing and spelling.
"We are also offering Wilson, a scripted, multi-sensory approach to reading, in all elementary and middle schools," he said. "We asked principals to pick out teachers for Wilson training. If we learn to recognize when a child has a problem with reading and dyslexia, then we won't end up with so many children in the special education program."
Gorman said if dyslexic students are taught properly, they can catch up with the rest of their classmates.
"My goal is to influence teachers about ways to teach students a little differently, so that they catch up and don't have to have an IEP," he said.
He said an autism task force will be created in October.
"We will be looking at our current configuration for teaching autistic students and reconstruct it to provide structured support to primary children with autism," he said.
Gorman said Shawn Henry, director of Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence, has offered to help direct the task force.
The Upper Arlington school district has 21 intervention specialists at the elementary level, 15 in the middle schools and 13 at the high schools. There are five multiple disabilities classes and four cross-categorical classes, where students with different learning and disability issues may be placed in the same class.
The district also has three full-time and two part-time psychologists and two full-time and four part-time speech therapists.
The district's Motor Team consists of one full-time adaptive physical education specialist; three part-time occupational therapy specialists and two part-time physical therapists. An audiologist is hired as needed.
Gorman said parents are now more involved with the special education program.
"We started a special education parent group last year," he said. "The parents meet every other month and they choose the topics to talk about."