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Georgia Council on Literacy - October 2023 Meeting

The Georgia Council on Literacy heard a report on the Mississippi reading “miracle” when it met before a packed audience Tuesday, Oct. 17 at Kennesaw State University. Council members heard updates on Georgia’s reading scores and learned how Marietta City Schools is changing literacy instruction. They also discussed findings from an analysis of the universal reading screeners the State Board of Education (SBOE) recently approved.


Carey Wright, former State Superintendent of Education in Mississippi, described that state’s comprehensive approach to improving literacy instruction, an effort that’s been underway since 2013 when Mississippi lawmakers passed the Literacy-Based Promotion (LBP) Act. Under the act’s framework, all K-3 teachers, K-8 special education teachers, and elementary principals in Mississippi participate in state-funded professional development in the science of reading. The state also provides literacy coaches who work in schools helping educators implement literacy instructional strategies in their classrooms. To ensure coaches provide consistent and high-quality support, the state hires, trains and deploys them, prioritizing schools with the greatest need. 


Like professional development, the state funds the coaches. The price tag for literacy coaches is $15 million annually, which currently covers 53 coaches who work in 103 schools. According to Wright, the LBP act is a statewide initiative so the state needed to fund it. State support for professional development and coaches also ensured that a common understanding of the science of reading was built across the state, instead of individual districts defining and implementing it. 


Wright encouraged Georgia educators to use the information and tools the Mississippi Department of Education has developed including resources on high-quality instructional materialsfamily engagement, and the state’s division of literacy. To learn more about Mississippi’s literacy work, see here and here.


Council members heard from Bill Reed, a partner at Deloitte, and Caitlyn Dooley, former deputy superintendent for teaching and learning at the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE), who shared data on student reading scores. According to Reed, 56% of the state’s third graders cannot read proficiently. Dooley reported that, though improving, third grade scores in English Language Arts on Georgia Milestones have not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels, and the percentage of students in the bottom category—beginning learners—has grown since the pandemic. She described similar results on student Lexile scores. 


Grant Rivera, superintendent of Marietta City Schools, and several of his colleagues described how they have made gains in student reading. The district’s work grew out of its collaboration with the Atlanta Speech School to improve instruction for students with dyslexia and began before the pandemic. Components of the district’s strategy include:


  • Two-year professional development program in the science of reading for pre-k to 3 teachers with support from the Atlanta Speech School

  • Reading specialists who provide instruction to students below grade level in groups of no more than 10.

  • Tutoring for third graders below grade level in after school program

  • Science of reading facilitators who support school-based coaches and reading specialists


Reading scores are climbing in Marietta. One school, A.L. Burruss Elementary School, saw the second highest growth in reading proficiency in the state. The district has also seen a decline in office referrals and improvement in teacher retention, which they attribute to the literacy reforms. 


The district used local funds, federal pandemic relief funds, and a grant to support this work. 


Lindee Morgan, president of the Deal Center for Early Language and Literacy, provided the day’s final presentation—highlights from an analysis the center recently conducted on the universal reading screeners the SBOE approved in August. Morgan noted the review had limitations due to time and available information. The screeners were examined in four domains: reliability, validity, sensitivity, and specificity. Three screeners were strong in all four domains, three were poor in the domains, and the remainder were a mix of strong and moderate across the domains. The Center is finalizing its report, which will be available in November.


The Council’s next meeting will be a virtual meeting 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 15.

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