Feb 8, 2024 - News

State launches plan to improve student literacy

Illustration of a pattern of apples and stacks of textbooks.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The Georgia Department of Education is teaming up with the Atlanta Speech School to improve reading skills for students across the state.

Why it matters: Only 39% of third-grade students were at or above proficient in English/Language Arts on the Georgia Milestones assessment in 2023, state education data shows.

  • While that's higher than 36% in 2022, it remains lower than 42% in 2019.

The latest: The partnership between the state DOE and the Rollins Center, an Atlanta Speech School program that provides professional development to educators, will train teachers and school leaders on how to incorporate the science of reading method into their lessons.

  • More than 125 educators and leaders across Georgia will participate as the first two-year cohort.

What they're saying: Amy Denty, the DOE's director of literacy, told Axios that elements of the science of reading have been around for decades, but educators now realize "students have to start out with a strong foundation."

  • "We haven't always done a great job of ensuring that those parts of reading are taken care of," she added.

How it works: The science of reading approach relies on five key components: vocabulary, comprehension, phonics, fluency and the ability to identify individual sounds in words.

  • A state law that went into effect last year requires the DOE to adopt the new method.

Be smart: Georgia is among 37 states and D.C. to implement new curriculums — and many are rooted in the science of reading, Axios' Erica Pandey reports.

Zoom out: Atlanta Public Schools is also partnering with Atlanta Speech School and two nonprofits on a pilot program to improve reading performance among students at eight schools, the AJC reports.

  • Marietta City Schools started a similar program a few years ago, and saw improvements in its third-grade reading scores on the Milestones test in 2023.

Of note: Lisa Morgan, a kindergarten teacher in DeKalb County, told Axios that many children in previous decades picked up the basics of reading by singing nursery rhymes, which gave them a baseline awareness of how words sound.

  • "There are a lot of skills that we learned that we didn't realize we were learning that led to being a successful reader," she said.

The bottom line: Rollins Center director Dr. Ryan Lee-James told Axios that while Georgia is "on a great path," the state needs to commit to improving literacy for the long haul.

  • "If not, then we're going to be in a really tough place with our kids not being able to read who eventually become adults who cannot read," she said.
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