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Georgia Council on Literacy K-3 Working Group - November 2023 Meeting

The Georgia Council on Literacy K-3 Working Group met virtually Nov. 7 for presentations on student retention, literacy coaches, hearing and vision, and increasing background knowledge. The working group is tasked by the Georgia Early Literacy Act to provide recommendations in a report for the Georgia General Assembly. Amy Denty, director of literacy at the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE), led the working group meeting.


Student Retention

Dayle Burns, First Lady of the Georgia House of Representatives and retired educator, provided comments to the working group on student retention policies, encouraging members to use a research-based approach when considering retention for students reading below grade level. Burns also said the retention policy the Council determines is best for Georgia’s students should be sustainable and should receive parental buy-in.

 

Matt Weyer, principal for the Education Commission of the States, shared his research on retention policies across the country. Positive outcomes for retaining students include a short-term boost in language and math skills and increased success for retained students who receive significant additional support, including targeted reading interventions, assignments to high-performing teachers, and summer programs. Negative impacts of retaining students, which Weyer said outweigh the positives, include lower graduation rates, lower postsecondary enrollment rates, and social-emotional effects due to the stigma of being retained. Weyer said research shows retention is disproportionately applied to low-income and minority student groups even when students have identical test scores. 

 

Weyer encouraged working group members to consider retention as the last resort for students who are behind. Instead, schools should focus on prevention and intervention practices for these students. Prevention focuses on continuity of instruction between Pre-K and K-3 and developing appropriate formative assessments, universal screeners, and other resources. Intervention strategies could include targeted support for students. If retention is utilized, it should be paired with comprehensive and individualized interventions. 

 

Working group members, including several educators, engaged in robust discussion on Georgia’s current retention policies. Educator members of the group suggested moving the cutoff date for kindergarten to potentially help children enter school at a more developmentally appropriate age. Katie Seymour, an instructional coach in Putnam County, shared about the district's ".5 Classroom" model, which is a half-step to the next grade level for students who are behind in certain subjects. Students are placed in classrooms with high-performing teachers and small class sizes to receive targeted intervention without being retained. They are unaware they are in a remedial classroom, which removes the stigma of being in a different class.


Denty suggested adding research on moving the kindergarten cutoff date to the list of recommendations for the full Council. Additionally, members requested that research on K-1 interventions be added and a comparison of physical and fluid retention models, such as the Putnam County model, to the recommendations.


Literacy Coaches

Denty presented the following draft coaching model currently being developed by a design team comprised of educators:

Working group members shared concerns about the proposed model, questioning whether it can be equitably scaled statewide. Andri Pilgrim, a teacher member of the group, cautioned that schools with great leaders and strong state assessment scores may be able to gain greater access to the regional coaches described in the model. “High-performing schools shouldn’t get a bigger bite at the coaches than low-performing schools,” she said.

 

Rep. Becky Evans (D-Atlanta) said literacy coach funding is an issue she is closely monitoring and is key to the success of any literacy coach model the state chooses. Rep. Will Wade (R-Dahlonega) said later in the meeting that funding for coaches could be heavier initially and taper over time as the program becomes more viable.

 

Scott Johnson, chair of the Georgia Council on Literacy, suggested the committee delay making a recommendation on literacy coaches until the design team wraps its work in December. Some members pushed back on this approach, with Wade suggesting council members meet with legislators during the special legislative session in December to discuss literacy coaches.


Hearing & Vision and Increasing Background Knowledge

Ellen Wiley shared recommendations on hearing and vision screenings needed as part of the literacy overhaul. She reviewed several recommendations to be included in the working group’s report, including raising public awareness of current hearing and vision data, laws, board rules, practices, and regulations. Another recommendation included creation of a strong diagnostic exam, based on models in other states.

 

Stephanie Westhafer, also a teacher, shared information on integrating literacy practices into other subject areas, including science and social studies, to boost reading comprehension. Denty recommended the book "The Knowledge Gap" by Natalie Wexler for members to learn more on the important topic.


Next Steps

The full Council’s next meeting will be virtual from 10 a.m. to noon Wednesday, Nov. 15, and will include a review of the recommendations from each of the Council’s working groups to be included in the report to legislators.

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