Berryville is a small town of 5,500 in the northwest corner of Arkansas. It’s also one of the many communities around the country trying to turn the promise of new state dyslexia laws into reality.
In Arkansas, a dyslexia law went into effect last school year. The law requires schools across the state to screen all students in kindergarten through second grade for signs of dyslexia. These signs can include trouble with recognizing letters of the alphabet, sounding out words and isolating the individual sounds of consonants and vowels. The law also requires screening students in grades 3 through 12 if a teacher notices they’re struggling with literacy.
The Berryville school district has around 2,000 students. It serves Berryville and its surrounding communities. Kim Ray is the district’s dyslexia therapist and coordinator. She says the law has helped transform how the district teaches students who show signs of dyslexia.
In early grades, Berryville uses a approach called WIN, which stands for “Whatever I Need.” The WIN program is designed for teachers to step in and help kids develop the specific skills they need in order to keep from falling behind. Students are grouped with other kids with similar skills.
“Those who need dyslexia intervention have to go to a teacher who has been trained,” says Ray. “And this summer, all of our K–5 teachers were trained in the Orton–Gillingham program, Phonics First.”
The WIN program lasts for 12 weeks. Student progress is checked every other week.
“If WIN doesn’t work for a student, then I come into the picture,” Ray says. “I give the student more in-depth screening tests that get to the heart” of that student’s learning differences. Once testing is finished, Ray meets with parents to discuss what the next steps should be.
Ray has been a teacher for 22 years in Berryville, her hometown. Yet she says she didn’t have a lot of knowledge about dyslexia before the Arkansas law was passed. Once she learned about the law, however, she realized dyslexia was a critical issue for the school district. She saw that kids in the district needed support in the classroom and could benefit from different methods of teaching that can be helpful for kids with dyslexia.
So when the Berryville school superintendent decided to hire someone to oversee dyslexia training in the district, she raised her hand and got the job. She also earned a graduate program endorsement as a dyslexia therapist from the University of Central Arkansas.
“Our law says that if a student is showing characteristics of dyslexia, that’s enough to get help,” says Ray. “As a therapist, that’s what I’m looking for.”
Throughout the country, few teachers learn about dyslexia in college or as part of their certification. Berryville is no different. Ray knew that without training, the teachers in the district wouldn’t be up to the task of complying with the new dyslexia law.
“We had no training on dyslexia as classroom teachers,” she notes. “I made it my mission to change that.”
Ray, along with nine special education teachers, five and a literacy facilitator, were the first in the district to be trained in the Phonics First program. The rest of the grade-school teachers got training soon after.
Ray meets weekly with her team to discuss the students who are receiving dyslexia services. They talk about who’s making progress, what’s working, and what needs to be changed. Kids with can also get services through Berryville special education teachers (who are also trained in Phonics First).
Ray says the new dyslexia screenings and training are making a big difference for kids: “We are catching students with dyslexia much earlier. We are seeing improvement with those students because they get help faster than ever before.”
Read how a dyslexia training program made a big impact in an Illinois school district. Find out what to do if you’re concerned your child might have dyslexia. And get a list of questions to ask your child’s school about its reading instruction.
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Geri Coleman Tucker is a freelance writer and editor and a former deputy managing editor for