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Georgia Council on Literacy - April 2024 Meeting

On Tuesday, April 16, the Georgia Council on Literacy met at Savannah State University for its quarterly meeting. Educators from Savannah-Chatham Schools presented information about the district's literacy work. Sen. Billy Hickman (R-Statesboro), along with other legislators on the Council, provided an overview of literacy-related policy changes from the 2024 legislative session. Paige Pullen, the chief academic officer at the University of Florida Lastinger Center for Learning, outlined Florida's literacy efforts.

Council members also engaged in robust discussion about literacy screener changes approved during the 2024 legislative session.

At the time of publication, the meeting recording was not available. However, the recording will be available HERE once published.

All PowerPoint presentations from the meeting can be accessed HERE.

Savannah-Chatham Schools Literacy Efforts

Cherie Goldman, 2022 Georgia Teacher of the Year and literacy effectiveness officer for Savannah-Chatham Schools, and Andrea Burkiett, director of elementary curriculum and instruction for Savannah-Chatham Schools, shared the district’s journey to improve literacy instruction. Goldman stated that 58 percent of the district’s 3rd graders read at or above grade level in the 2022-2023 school year, below the state average of 64 percent. This data, along with legislative changes and the district’s 2026 strategic plan, served as the impetus for her district’s literacy action.

Burkiett discussed LETRS Training for Teachers, the science of reading training program adopted by Savannah-Chatham Schools. All K-5 classroom teachers in the district will complete the training. Currently, more than 1,200 administrators, academic coaches, district support personnel, and teachers have completed LETRS training in 35 face-to-face sessions.

She also covered the district’s selection of high-quality instructional materials, which began in 2022 by surveying teachers. She emphasized that the district strives to maintain focus on the needs of classroom teachers delivering literacy instruction. 

Goldman and Burkiett described the literacy instructional supports offered by the district, including instructional shifts, increased EIP teachers, and increased support personnel. 

2024 Legislative Session Recap and Screener Discussion

Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) Commissioner Amy Jacobs shared the department’s 2024 legislative successes.

Sen. Hickman shared literacy updates from the 2024 legislative session. He highlighted SB 233, a bill that creates education savings accounts (ESA), a new type of voucher sending public funds to private schools and other entities that provide educational services. Legislative leaders also included in SB 233 expansion of Pre-K by allowing school districts to include Pre-K programs for purposes of Capital Outlay eligibility. 

Hickman described HB 1122 as a success for literacy. The bill mandates use of a single 0-100 score to assess overall school performance, which the GaDOE stopped issuing in the pandemic’s wake. Additional scores would be assessed for various distinct school performance components. Every school and school district are required to annually publish an overall score along with various component scores. 

Universal Screener Discussion

The Council engaged in a robust discussion on SB 464, which makes changes to the 2023 Georgia Early Literacy Act, creating a five-member executive committee of the Georgia Council on Literacy and narrowing the list of State Board of Education-approved state literacy screeners to five, of which one will be a free universal screener. The date by which local school districts are required to select a screener was extended by one year, from 2024 to 2025. 

Stan DeJarnett, chairman of the SBOE, expressed concern that Hickman and other legislators on the Council intend to use the universal screener as a tool to compare literacy performance between districts. DeJarnett said that the purpose of a screener is diagnostic, not comparability; screeners are a “check engine light” for teachers to monitor individual student progress. He maintained that use of a screener for accountability purposes is inappropriate. DeJarnett also said that because some screeners are commonly used across the state, there could be significant financial penalties if the approved screener list is not sufficiently inclusive. Scott Johnson, chair of the Council on Literacy, added that HB 538 specifically says screeners should not be used for education assessment accountability. 

Other Council members, including Sen. Jason Esteves (D-Atlanta) and Lindee Morgan, executive director of the Sandra Dunagan Deal Center for Early Language and Literacy, shared DeJarnett’s concerns about potential vendor contracting issues and financial penalties that could accompany removal of commonly used screeners. SB 464 has tasked the Deal Center with entering into a memorandum of understanding with GaDOE and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget to select the universal free screener.

HB 538 Implementatation Update

Morgan next shared the results of the Deal Center’s district survey completed by 113 of Georgia’s 221 public school districts, which includes charter schools for the purposes of the survey, to collect baseline data on district progress on implementing HB 538. The full survey report is available HERE.

Below are barriers shared by districts on the universal reading screener, high-quality instructional materials, tiered interventions, and deployment of instructional coaches.

Next, Director of Literacy for GaDOE, Amy Denty asked educators on the Council to discuss their experience with HB 538 implementation.


Denty asked the Council's educators to share their thoughts on HB 538 implementation. Most educators shared appreciation for the flexibility offered by the date changes made by SB 464, although one educator said what is required to be completed by which date seems unclear. They echoed DeJarnett’s concerns on the universal screeners, urging caution when narrowing the list too far to avoid causing unnecessary change for many districts. They asked for a better way for districts to access innovative ideas from other districts when developing required tiered reading interventions.

Denty shared the following slide regarding professional learning from the state’s perspective:

Florida's Lessons Learned on Improving Literacy

Paige Pullen, chief academic officer at the University of Florida Lastinger Center for Learning, concluded the presentations by sharing how Florida significantly improved its literacy scores. Her full presentation is available HERE.

Next Steps

The Council on Literacy working groups will continue to meet virtually. PAGE will attend these meetings and report on the discussion.

The Council's next full meeting is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 26, at 10 a.m. in Milledgeville at Georgia College & State University.


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