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New Study Highlights Potential Missed Diagnoses of Dyslexia in African American Students

February 08, 2024
by Alexa Tomassi

A new study reported by Sally Shaywitz, MD in the journal npj Science of Learning, finds that African American students with dyslexia may be overlooked in schools. For the study, children in grades K-2 in two public charter schools in New Orleans, Louisiana were screened using the teacher completed, evidence-based Shaywitz DyslexiaScreen and then tested for dyslexia. Upon being screened, almost half (49.2%) of the children were deemed at-risk for dyslexia. Further testing confirmed that most of those who were screened had dyslexia.

Dyslexia is defined in federal law (PL 115-391) as, “an unexpected difficulty in reading for an individual who has the intelligence to be a much better reader, most commonly caused by a difficulty in the phonological processing (the appreciation of the individual sounds of spoken language), which affects the ability of an individual to speak, read, and spell.” The diagnosis is very common, affecting nearly 1 in 5 American children equally across genders. The study also noted that children with dyslexia often, “fail to receive effective reading interventions”.

This is unfortunate, Dr. Shaywitz told us, given that, “We know how to screen, and we know how to intervene properly.” She explained that every two years, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) releases a report on reading and math scores from thousands of students across the United States. NAEP data have consistently shown that 20% of White and 50% of African American students are shown to read at a level considered “below basic”, which good evidence indicates represent children with dyslexia. Results of the current study and the many decades of NAEP reading data, indicate that high numbers of African American students have dyslexia but are currently undiagnosed, and do not receive evidence-based interventions for their reading difficulties.

Dr. Shaywitz advocates early screening (kindergarten to grade 3) for dyslexia and early implementation of evidence-based interventions for those children found to be at risk for dyslexia if the reading gap between African American children and their white peers is to be narrowed, and even eliminated.

Laura Cassidy, MD, and Kayla Reggio, M. Ed., of the Dyslexia Resource Center, and Bennett Shaywitz , MD, helped author this study. Click here to read “Prevalence of undiagnosed dyslexia in African American primary school children” in npj Science of Learning.

Submitted by Alexa Tomassi on February 07, 2024