OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Oklahoma instructors say a combination of COVID-19, distanced learning, and less one-on-one time has hit the education system hard – especially in the last year.

The Payne Education Center is a local organization that specializes in working with kids who have dyslexia.

Executive Director Heather Johnson told KFOR the average literacy levels have dropped significantly in the last year.

“On a scale of 1 to 100, with 50 being average, what we are typically seeing last year and even into the beginning of this year is it averages 30,” said Johnson. “That’s really scary from a teacher and a parent perspective.”

That average comes from a cohort of first through fourth graders in the metro area.

Unfortunately, with the average test result being so low, Johnson explained how difficult it has been to help everyone.

“If a parent calls me today and says my kid is a 30% and I want services for them, I have to say 30th is good. And unfortunately, your kid’s not going to qualify for services because they’re not at the bottom. They’re actually at the top,” she said.

Johnson said there are a multitude of reasons why Oklahoma students aren’t testing high in literacy.

Coupled with the pandemic is the lack of training and respect for teachers, according to Johnson.

“They didn’t get that foundation. Reading is like a pyramid or like building a cake. If you don’t have really strong foundational skills, when you get to that top comprehension, it kind of caves and falls. We’re seeing all these fourth, fifth and sixth graders that have all of these holes kind of punched in their foundational level, so when we’re testing them, it just caves in,” said Johnson.

Although this isn’t the lowest average literacy score Johnson has seen, she said it’s not a good spot to be in.

As of Friday afternoon, they’ve got 36 kids they’re working with who have low literacy levels.

Teaching kids with lower literacy levels can require extra effort and training, but that’s something the Payne Education Center is providing to teachers.

Johnson said the only problem with that is that those teachers must pay for it themselves.

Last summer alone, the center helped 971 teachers who asked for help.

Their normal number of teachers asking for help falls in the 400-500 range.

“That’s actually what we specialize in. We are a training center that trains teachers how to teach reading in a science of reading based way. That’s very explicit, very systematic, very prescriptive. That’s best for all kids, but absolutely necessary for kids with disabilities and Dyslexia,” said Johnson.

On the flip side, the Oklahoma State Board of Education passed a new dyslexia assessment and screening June 2021.

The screening started at the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year.

“Under Oklahoma’s Reading Sufficiency Act (RSA), ALL kindergarten through 3rd -grade students must be screened using a State Board of Education-approved screening instrument: Under RSA, K-3 students must be screened three times a year—at the beginning, middle, and end of the year,” the board’s website reads.

The dyslexia screening will only be once a year though.

“In order to identify students who might be at-risk for dyslexia, students in kindergarten through third grade who do not meet the grade-level target on a universal screening assessment at the beginning of the year must also be screened for characteristics of dyslexia,” the boards website also stated.

The screening isn’t considered an official diagnosis for dyslexia, but more so just to identify the characteristics of dyslexia in a student.

A student’s spelling, vocabulary, writing, decoding, letter names and sounds, phonological processing skills, and automaticity of reading will be evaluated.

“Everybody is just really happy to be getting this extra layer so they can better understand what students’s needs are,” said the Director of Elementary English Language Arts in the Office of Curriculum Instruction at Oklahoma State Department of Education, Sharon Morgan.

She said who implements the screening is up to the school district.

“It can be a reading specialist or special education or the classroom teacher. It just depends on how the schools decide to implement,” she stated.

The screening is still ongoing, so final results have not yet been released, but Morgan said they’ll be included in the end-of-year teacher reports.

In addition to a new dyslexia screening, state legislators have granted an extra $1M to literacy education for next year.

That funding total now climbs from $12M to $13M.

If you’re looking for support, the Payne Education Center has a multitude of resources on its website.

There are free videos showing how to help kids through their dyslexia as well an application for free resources.