Marysville Schools Leading The Way: Evolving Best Practices For Learners with Dyslexia

By Lisa Duty, Executive Director, International Dyslexia Association Central Ohio (@lisaduty1)
Visit International Dyslexia Association Central Ohio on twitter and facebook: @IDACentralOhio

Research shows that children who don’t learn to read by the end of third grade are likely to remain poor readers for the rest of their lives. Underdeveloped literacy skills lead to underachievement in all academic subjects and often affects school and social behavior. Unsurprisingly, reading difficulties have been associated with higher risks of depression, higher rates of dropping out, decreased likelihood of obtaining college degrees and lower levels of income.

For children who have dyslexia, identification and earlier, effective interventions could change their lives. However, most students don’t get diagnosed with dyslexia until the end of second grade or the beginning of third– but research shows reading interventions are most successful in kindergarten and first grade. 

One District’s Transformation

Marysville Exempted Village School District in Marysville, Ohio,  is recognized nationwide as a lighthouse of education innovation on many fronts– but in 2015-16,  it earned a letter grade of  D on the State Report Card K-3 Literacy Improvement Component.  Three years later, the district’s grade on the same component is now a B.  This distinction, says Superintendent Diane Mankins, is a direct reflection of Marysville’s intentional and collaborative effort to reduce the risk level of all kids who struggle with reading– including those with dyslexia.





K-3 Literacy Improvement



Gap Closing






Source: Marysville Schools Ohio School Report Card

In a district where special education referral rates were once approaching twice the state average, the Superintendent created a Director of Literacy position reporting directly to her thus reducing any unnecessary bureaucracy, signaling space for innovation and elevating the criticality of the work. The charge: Develop systems and mobilize resources to support teachers and students so no matter the reading challenge, the district can chart an effective path ensuring each student’s success.

The Marysville Way

Marysville collectively shifted from a curricular to a clinical mindset, adopting a diagnostic prescriptive approach to reading. This approach allows the district to focus intensely on individual student reading profiles rather than a one-size-fits-all approach to reading. Marysville was willing to share the following highlights of their literacy programs with the goal of inspiring greater exchanges of knowledge, practices and systems serving learners with dyslexia.

 Diving right in:

  • Get Screenings Right
  • Personalize Interventions
  • Reading is Everyone’s Business
  1. Get Screenings Right

Once teams of Marysville educators identified the information necessary to create accurate student reading profiles, the often difficult task of properly implementing universal screeners and other diagnostic testing (i.e. Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing – Second Edition) for all Kindergarten students) was relatively easy. “Even in a district primarily grounded in  Literacy Collaborative and Reading-Recovery, our teams quickly found value in previously misunderstood measures allowing us to capture both at-risk and dyslexic profiles,” said Literacy Director Steve Griffin.  Building the capacity to accurately use and understand these new data was and continues to be a district focus. “If red, yellow and green colored data is simply dropped in your lap with no systems or interventions in place to allow these data to impact teaching and learning, teams will resent wasting the time it took to collect the information,” said Griffin.

Marysville MTSS  (Multi-Tiered Systems of Support) teams and teachers deeply understand the importance of quantifying risk and how tracking student performance in areas like phonemic awareness, the understanding of alphabetic principle, working memory and retrieval abilities help do this for kids. These are common sense issues Marysville addressed which helped them tremendously.

In terms of dyslexia, Marysville’s goal is to identify it early and prevent children from realizing a severity level necessitating an IEP whenever possible. The CTOPP2 is very popular across Marysville schools because educators there understand the important information the assessment provides. Gaining a glimpse into the functioning of a student’s left brain hemisphere is invaluable.  By accurately capturing a dyslexic profile early on, Marysville puts time on their side. They can’t wait for the IEP process to do this. It’s too reactionary.  The key is to be proactive and keep kids from ever realizing their potential reading problem.  Time and best practices are the two key variables Marysville can control, so they’ve put programs in place to do so, in turn, leveraging an enormous amount of control.                                                 

The district insists on continuous screening, diagnosing and intervening – all starting in Kindergarten. One of the goals of screening for dyslexia is to identify this variability and begin research-based remediation to rewire the brain as soon as possible. Marysville believes in a greater focus on putting supports in place across intervention Tiers (I, II &  III)  instead of merely attaching kids to IEPs. Their mantra in grades K through 2: There’s nothing we can do with an IEP that we can’t without.

  1. Personalize Interventions

Griffin states, “When it comes to the reading wars Marysville is Switzerland.  Adopting a prescriptive  diagnostic approach allows us to stay student-focused rather than program-focused.”  Through their screening and MTSS process, a student-at-risk for dyslexia is quickly enrolled into Orton-Gillingham based programming.  The more severe the reading deficit, the higher the level of instructional support all starting without having to qualify for an IEP to trigger the supports.  In Marysville, educators believe students shouldn’t have to qualify via IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) to gain a personalized education.  “Reading instruction tailored to the individual learner shouldn’t be just a ‘special education thing’,“ Griffin said.

  1. Reading is Everyone’s Business

“We’re excited about our recent success but good news on the report card doesn’t mean our work stops.  Getting reading right for every student is not optional and we’ll continue to align our practice to this end.”

Marysville has blurred the lines between instructional tiers (I, II and II) and also between professional titles.  While Marysville reading specialists provide most of the heavy lift when it comes to providing Tier II interventions, so do its classroom teachers, speech-language pathologists (SLPs) and intervention specialists (special education teachers).  Taking a collaborative team approach removes the “turfdom” existing in reading.  In any given school you may see a classroom teacher using the S.P.I.R.E. curriculum (intensive, multisensory reading instruction) or a reading specialist completing their Orton-Gillingham practicum.  Specialized instruction occurs across all Tiers. This “feathering out of services“ and vertical alignment of programming, in turn, allows Intervention Specialists to better streamline their special education caseloads, providing more robust services to students on IEPs with the most severe reading needs. True collaboration and a common vision amongst district administrators exist as well. This building of capacity at all levels across multiple professionals for the student with dyslexia is a defining contributor to student success.  

The work at Marysville isn’t complete, and an “A” across the board on the State Report Card is in their long-range sight. But it’s about so much more than the letter grade. Reading is key to life, health, confidence and success.  It’s a game changer for kids. Marysville  Superintendent Diane Mankins notes “We’re excited about our recent success but good news on the report card doesn’t mean our work stops.  Getting reading right for every student is not optional and we’ll continue to align our practice to this end.”

This article was submitted to the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) by the International Dyslexia Association, Central Ohio branch. Email for more information about IDA’s branches.

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