Frisco ISD is officially the first public school district in the nation to become an IMSLEC accredited dyslexia therapist training center.
The accreditation bestowed by the International Multisensory Structured Language Education Council (IMSLEC) is an opportunity not only for teachers and students, but for the community.
With over 1,000 students currently served by the District Dyslexia Program, it is now easier than ever for teachers to be trained by the in-District two-year dyslexia therapist education program to become a Certified Academic Language Therapist (CALT).
“By becoming an accredited training center, FISD has the unique opportunity to more fully support the community as a whole and to decrease the shortage of dyslexia therapists needed to meet all of the needs of students in our area,” said Cherie Howell, Frisco ISD Dyslexia Coordinator. “The District is thrilled to provide teachers therapy-level training.”
According to Yale University, one in five people struggle with dyslexia and it is the most common learning disorder. Dyslexia is commonly misunderstood as an issue of people not seeing their numbers and letters in the right direction; however, it is a phonological issue, a neurological problem that impacts the student’s ability to connect the sound structure of our language with the written symbols (letters).
Students with dyslexia need dyslexia therapists who have extensive training in an alphabetic multi-sensory program that helps kids learn to read, write and spell.
“Frisco ISD is committed to supporting all students in learning at high levels and our dyslexia program is one key element of how we put that commitment into action,” said Katie Kordel, Frisco ISD chief academic officer. “The strength of our dyslexia program and being recognized as an accredited dyslexia therapist training center is a testament to the passion and commitment of our dyslexia therapists and leadership.”
Historically, the District has partnered with the Scottish Rite Hospital Dyslexia Educator Center to train teachers through an intense two-year program that requires 700 hours of teaching, 200 hours of class time and multiple observations and culminates in a certification.
The partnership began in 2008 when the District had a large number of candidates interested in pursuing a CALT, but Scottish Rite did not have the capacity for all the FISD candidates. As a result, Frisco ISD began to work with the hospital to provide its own in-District training under the direction of Scottish Rite.
In Frisco ISD, there are currently about 50 certified or interning dyslexia therapists (CALTs) teaching a multisensory phonics-based program with a strong word-attack focus where early identification and learning is key. In addition, the District has three qualified instructors who are certified to teach people seeking to have their own CALT designation.
“I feel very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to be trained as a dyslexia therapist and then as a qualified instructor in such a great district," said Lesha Stallons, a qualified instructor. “Becoming accredited and being able to share our knowledge about dyslexia with teachers from outside the district is very exciting. We have the chance to ultimately help even more children learn to read.”
Margaret Abramo and her family relocated to Frisco from Massachusetts after her son was diagnosed with dyslexia in the first grade.
“Frisco had the services and resources that my son needed in order to be successful,” said Abramo, a qualified instructor. “As the years went by, I became curious about how the brain functions and how we learn to read. I decided to get trained so that I could learn how to help other families.”
Eventually, the District plans to open up training to teachers outside of Frisco ISD. By training teachers, the District hopes to retain and attain potential candidates for CALT positions with Frisco ISD.
The District has traditionally graduated about five dyslexia therapists a year and proudly has 10 individuals at the introductory level right now starting their two-year journey. Graduates of the certification program can start graduate school with 12 to 15 hours already under their belt for a master’s in special education with a focus in dyslexia.
The IMSLEC Specific On-Site Evaluation Team visited Scott Elementary to witness teaching in action to make sure all criteria was met.
“Texas has had a Dyslexia Law since 1985 that requires students to be identified and instructed according to the child’s needs,” said Jana Jones, IMSLEC executive director. “People move to Texas to benefit from the law and people move to Frisco because they know their children will be serviced.”
After a lengthy accreditation process that took about 18 months, including extensive documentation, review of paperwork, several accreditation committees, and final approval by the IMSLEC Board of Directors, Frisco ISD has received its official certificate and letter of approval.
The District continues to be an innovative force and is participating in critical research studies related to dyslexia programming. Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children and Middle Tennessee State are researching how Frisco ISD is pre-testing, progress monitoring and post-testing to see how students respond to and to evaluate the efficacy of the District’s research-based curriculum.
“Quality research-based instruction helps the child, but it is so much more,” Jones said. “It helps the whole family. When the child gets help, it changes everything.”
Teachers interested in becoming a Certified Academic Language Therapist should contact FISD Dyslexia Coordinator, Cherie Howell. Parents can learn more about the early identification of, instruction for, and accommodations for students with dyslexia in the 2018 Dyslexia Handbook.