By now you may have heard that Senate Bill 48 has passed a final vote in the Georgia legislature. Governor Kemp is expected to sign the bill into law this month. While this is a great step in the right direction, don’t anticipate rapid change. SB48 states that local school systems will not be required to screen all kindergarten students for dyslexia until the beginning of the 2024-2025 school year.
What SB48 Will Do
In a nutshell, the new law will establish a standard definition of dyslexia, set forth a timeline for mandated dyslexia screening, and begin the process of educating teachers about dyslexia. It does not address intervention beyond that currently used in schools, and does not mandate particular reading curricula.
Definitions – SB48 will provide a legal definition of dyslexia based on the International Dyslexia Association’s definition and specifically acknowledges the importance of phonemic awareness (the ability to recognize that words are made up of a sequence of sounds and be able to manipulate them for reading, writing and speaking).
The bill further states that a ‘qualified dyslexia screening tool’ will need to measure phonological awareness skills, phonemic decoding efficiency, sight word reading skills, rapid automatic naming skills, and accuracy of word-reading of grade-level text. These are important steps toward educating teachers in Georgia and are exactly what we do when screening students here at Syllables.
Policies – Based on these steps, the new law will require the State Board of Education to develop policies for referring students in kindergarten through third grade for dyslexia screening “who have been identified through the RTI process” no later than July 1, 2020. These new policies will also include a list of approved dyslexia screening tools for schools, a process for letting parents know the results of the screening and a process for monitoring student progress after screening.
Teacher Training – SB48 also requires the Department of Education to collaborate with the Professional Standards Committee to improve and update professional development opportunities for teachers specifically relating to dyslexia. By Dec. 30, 2019, the Professional Standards Commission will create a ‘Dyslexia Endorsement for Teachers’ trained in dyslexia awareness and how to use a dyslexia screening tool. This is a step in the right direction but does not mean teachers will be trained in remediation for dyslexic students.
Pilot Program – The new law requires the State School Superintendent to establish a 3-year pilot program to “demonstrate and evaluate the effectiveness of early reading assistance programs for students with risks factors for dyslexia” beginning with the 2020-2021 school year.
Dyslexia Screening in all Schools – Beginning with the 2024-2025 school year, local school systems will be required to screen all kindergarten students for dyslexia. At the same time, students in grades one through three will be screened if they have been identified through the RTI process.
At the College Level – Finally, SB48 requires (but without a deadline) the Professional Standards Commission to include dyslexia awareness information in teacher preparation programs for elementary and secondary education instruction. New teachers coming out of colleges and universities will enter the classroom knowing the definition of dyslexia, how to spot the signs and screen students, and what kinds of instruction will help. This does not require teachers be trained in good instruction.
Many parents will say this is not enough, and not soon enough. While we agree, we have watched other states attempt aggressive legislation just to see it fail. Dyslexia advocates like those at the International Dyslexia Association Georgia and Decoding Dyslexia Georgia will continue to work toward strengthening dyslexia legislation in Georgia.
At Syllables Learning Center, our greatest hope is that one day all teachers will be trained to identify students with dyslexia in kindergarten. Our teacher training division, Kendore Learning, dreams of a day when all teachers are equipped with the training they need to help struggling readers in the classroom. This new law is an exciting step in the right direction. We are carefully following this legislation and will keep you updated.