Beating Dyslexia in Duval
Betty Raimondo, an early literacy teacher with Nemours BrightStart, works with Glenn Cobb in Jacksonville last year. [Photo: Bruce Lipsky / The Florida Times-Union]
A third of Duval County 10th-graders cannot read at grade level, according to the latest FCAT scores. Nearly 20% of Jacksonville’s overall population reads below the 5th-grade level, according to the National Adult Literacy Survey. Local concern over illiteracy has heightened excitement over early results from a community dyslexia initiative launched three years ago by Nemours, one of the nation’s largest children’s health systems.
Dyslexia is the most common cause of reading problems. But it’s often not diagnosed until the third grade — at which point there’s a good chance the child will never read at grade level. In 2005, Jacksonville-based Nemours launched a demonstration project in 125 local day-care centers to identify 4-year-olds at risk of reading difficulties. The program — Nemours BrightStart — has screened about 13,000 children for dyslexia. It has sent about 1,300 of those into an educational intervention program.
People with dyslexia aren’t “slow;” their brains just work differently when it comes to reading. The BrightStart intervention puts 4-year-olds to work in small groups with teachers who focus on letter recognition, syllable segmentation, rhyming, beginning sounds, alliteration and emergent writing.
About two-thirds of children who scored well below average on an initial assessment have moved to within normal reading range after going through the nine-week program. So far, the positive results are holding up into the children’s formal schooling: Among those participating in the 2006-07 school year, 86% met the Duval County Public Schools’ end-of-kindergarten reading benchmark in 2008. The countywide pass rate was 74%.
“These are the most exhilarating and promising results I’ve seen in my career,” says Dr. Laura Bailet, BrightStart executive director, who previously led Nemours’ Neurocognitive Assessment Program for 18 years.
This fall, Nemours brought the program to Nap Ford Community School, a charter school in Orlando’s Parramore neighborhood. The idea is to implement BrightStart throughout central Florida, and — if the results hold — to transfer it throughout Florida and beyond.