By Elaine Owen, Editor
Georgia public school teachers will receive specific training on teaching dyslexic students after Gov. Brian Kemp signed new legislation Thursday (May 2).
Under SB 48, passed overwhelmingly by both chambers of the Georgia Legislature, within five years all elementary schools must test every kindergarten student for dyslexia.
State Sen. P.K. Martin (R-Lawrenceville), who sponsored the bill said, “Today is a great day. It’s a day that we finally acknowledge dyslexia in our Georgia code,” at the bill-signing event held Thursday at the Wheeler High School library in Marietta.
“From this day forward, we will begin the process of making sure that all students receive the tools that they need to succeed,” Martin said.
The bill instructs the State Board of Education to develop a policy for dyslexia screening for all kindergarten students, referral for students with identified dyslexia characteristics in grades one to three, and screening for those who did not attend kindergarten or were not screened in kindergarten.
The bill further requires the Georgia Department of Education to submit data to the state regarding students with dyslexia and for the Professional Standards Commission to create a dyslexia endorsement for teachers to include information regarding dyslexia in teacher preparation programs.
The bill won support pushed by emotional testimony from children who described public schools lacking both skill and empathy when confronted with the students inability to read.
Experts estimate that 10 to 20 percent of the population has dyslexia, which would translate to at least 180,000 Georgia students.
Currently, only 1 in 3 Georgia fourth-graders scored “proficient” on national reading tests.
Tina Engberg, the state leader for the parent advocacy group Decoding Dyslexia Georgia, formed in 2013, said she was elated to see years of hard work at the state Capitol culminate with the bill’s signing.
“We’re the parents who know our children are dyslexic,” said Engberg, whose teenage son is dyslexic.
“There are vast numbers of people who don’t yet know that about their child, and this is why (the bill) is so important.”
Specifically the bill will:
Include the definition of dyslexia in the Georgia Code. As many as 1 in 5 students may be dyslexic and the lack of understanding and knowledge about dyslexia has troubled our school systems for years.
The creation of a Dyslexia handbook by the Department of Education. This will help teachers and schools to understand dyslexia and better serve students who exhibit characteristics of dyslexia.
Training for future teachers. This will produce a new generation of educators who have widespread awareness and new tools to teach dyslexic students and lead them to successful outcomes.
Create a three-year pilot program in three school districts. This will offer an opportunity to train teachers in Structured Literacy practices and follow real metrics on improvement in reading skills. It will also provide financial evidence of cost savings using improved teaching methodology.
Include universal screening of all Kindergarten students and some students in grades 1-3. This will help identify children who may be dyslexic earlier, before they start to fall behind their peers. Early identification and intervention for dyslexic students will turn the tide on difficult statistics that bear out what it looks like when Dyslexia is not addressed: Lengthier time to intervene if found later in elementary school (Joseph, Torgeson 2004, 2007); Three times higher likelihood of dropping out of high school (NCLD); Prisons have very high levels of illiteracy, prompting Federal screening for Dyslexia of prison populations (First Step Act of 2018).
Source: Tina Engberg, State Leader, Decoding Dyslexia GA