Coppell ISD has changed how it identifies and serves students with dyslexia.

Stephanie Flores, executive director for intervention services, informed the board of trustees on the status of the district’s special education enrollment and related changes in dyslexia services at a Jan. 22 meeting.

The background

The changes mirror statewide updates in identifying and serving dyslexia students, Flores said.

Amendments to the dyslexia handbook in 2021 outlined a single pathway for dyslexia students, according to the Texas Education Agency. Parents and school districts are no longer able to choose Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 as a pathway for dyslexia. As of 2024, all dyslexia students are evaluated and served through the district’s special education program.

Section 504, part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities and ensures a child with a disability has equal access to an education, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The district strives to comply with the law through annual evaluations.

“We look at the disability and if it substantially limits their educational access," Flores said. "We’re looking specifically at access to general education and making sure we can provide reasonable accommodation to have that equal access.”

The details

The district has ​​772 learners identified with dyslexia, 363 of which are receiving services directly through Section 504 or special education. This indicates that about 5.8% of CISD students are identified with dyslexia, an increase of 263 students over the last six years, Flores said.

“The reason that there’s a big gap in those numbers is because with dyslexia therapy, learners at some point don’t really need to have that individualized pullout into dyslexia services,” Flores said. “Many of our learners are able to exit the dyslexia program and still receive accommodations that they need, but they don’t require the support of a dyslexia therapist.”

In efforts to better serve dyslexia students, CISD created a program for dyslexia therapists to become certified academic language therapists, Flores said.

The certification is the highest level attainable, according to the Academic Language Therapy Association. CALT-certified professionals provide diagnostic, explicit and systematic multisensory structured language intervention with a high degree of accuracy for students with written-language disorders.

“We have three educators now that are working as dyslexia therapists and go to Frisco ISD with the partnership, and in two years they will become CALT certified,” Flores said.

More details

Additionally, the district has deployed dyslexia screeners in kindergarten, first grade and seventh grade as a means for early monitoring and intervention. The MClass intervention tool, which helps teachers recognize students struggling with phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension, was expanded through fifth grade, she said.

Given the change to a single pathway for dyslexia identification, the district began seeing new referrals last year and offered all parents full and individual evaluation through special education. So far 61 of the referrals in 2024 have included a dyslexia evaluation. This year, the TEA is requiring districts to consider direct support through special education, moving out of Section 504, Flores said.

“For learners and parents, it's not going to look any different because they already work with a dyslexia therapist,” she said. “We’re not changing curriculum, we’re not changing programs.”

The big picture

The district is also experiencing an increase in overall special education enrollment in part due to the removal of dyslexia students from Section 504 services and into special education, but also because of a 2018 corrective action by the TEA and how it qualifies students for special education. The organization found an artificial cap, and districts were not identifying as many students as they should, Flores said. As a result, the district has increased its child-finding efforts.

As of October, enrollment for special education students has increased to almost 11% of total enrollment, according to district documents. That number was at 9.8% in the 2022-23 school year and just 6.6% in the 2018-19 school year. Currently, special education enrollment for the district is 1,450 students, compared to the 847 students served in the 2018-19 school year, according to district documents.

In total, Coppell ISD has seen an 88% increase in the special education students it serves over the last seven years, Flores said. This remains 3% below the state average, but both are seeing increases, Flores said.

“We want to identify early, we want to give the services that they need,” she said.