It was a familiar story for many.
"Sarah" had been in kindergarten just a few months when teachers told her parents that she just wasn't interested in classroom activities. By first grade, she was telling her mother she didn't want to go to school anymore. By second grade, she felt like "a dummy," and frequently cried or complained of stomachaches in class.
Halfway through third grade, Sarah's parents hired a tutor in an effort to turn around her falling grades.
Although she had been screened before for learning disabilities with no definite results, the school tested her again -- this time finding that the problem was dyslexia and likely had been all along.
Educational diagnostician Ann M. Bain told the story of "Sarah" -- a fictional girl but one whose tale was based on real-life children she has seen professionally -- as a keynote speaker last weekend at the spring conference of the International Dyslexia Association's Maryland branch.
'Damsel in distress'
While the story of Sarah had no good guys or bad guys, "there certainly is a damsel in distress," Bain told the parents and educators attending the conference at St. Paul's School for Girls in Brooklandville.
They heard Bain warn -- in an address called "Why Some Children Fail to Read by 9" -- that a screening test known as the "discrepancy formula," measuring gaps between a child's cognitive and academic abilities, works against early identification of dyslexia because of standards that vary among school jurisdictions.
"She would have qualified for special education a year earlier in the [next] county," Bain said of the fictional Sarah.
Bain listed inadequate teacher training as another problem in meeting the educational needs of students with varying levels of ability.
"We're not giving our teachers the tools they need to do their jobs," said Bain, who works at the Forbush School at Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital. Sarah's teachers, she said, used literature-based whole language methods that left her far behind.
To improve teacher training, Bain suggested support for the task force established by state school Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick that is examining reading instruction and has proposed requiring four reading courses for certification of elementary teachers. It will publish its findings next month.
The ideal solution to Sarah's problem, said Bain, after a discussion with the audience, would be to place her in a "co-taught course with a learning specialist and the classroom teacher."
She stressed that parents and teachers should communicate on a regular basis. Doing so would ensure that dyslexic students get early care "rather than have a little girl who can't read and shows signs of lack of self-confidence," she said.
Bain's presentation supplemented a morning of workshops on dyslexia.
Fran Bowman, an educational specialist and director of Bowman Educational Services, spoke about the multisensory Orton Gillingham approach to teaching dyslexic students. She began her session with the dyslexic version of "Little Red Riding Hood," in which an Orton Gillingham tutor saves Red and her grandmother from the wolf.
"Don't mess with an Orton Gillingham tutor -- they're tough," said Bowman, laughing.
Formerly the Orton Dyslexia Society, the International Dyslexia Association is dedicated to the study and treatment of dyslexia. For more information call 410-296-0232 or visit the Web site at http: //www.interdys.org.
Pub Date: 5/10/98