Screening Dyslexia in Georgia Public Schools: An Intro to Senate Bill 48
Public school systems in Georgia are working to help more students with dyslexia with the upcoming implementation of Senate Bill 48, which requires all Georgia elementary schools to screen every kindergartener for dyslexia. Pilot programs started in the 2020-21 school year.
“SB 48 requires the State Board of Education, State Superintendent, Georgia Department of Education and Georgia Professional Standards Commission to develop policies for referring certain elementary students for dyslexia screening, create a dyslexia informational handbook to assist school districts, provide professional development opportunities on dyslexia for teachers, create a dyslexia endorsement for teachers and add instruction on dyslexia and response to intervention to existing standards for teacher preparation programs,” explains Jennifer Lindstrom, the Statewide Dyslexia Coordinator.
Beginning in 2024-25, local school systems will begin screening all kindergarten students and certain students in grades 1-3 for characteristics of dyslexia. “Universal screening for dyslexia risk is designed to reliably indicate each student’s unique risk for experiencing later difficulties with accuracy and/or fluency in word reading,” Lindstrom says.
Seven districts have a pilot program: Charlton County School District, City Schools of Decatur, DeKalb County School District, Jackson County School District, Marietta City Schools, Muscogee County School District and Ware County School District. Districts are able to determine their own goals and implementation strategies.
“Prior to the pilot, we did not have any formal process for identifying dyslexia,” says Chelsea Bargallo, the District Administrator in the Office of Academic Achievement at Marietta City Schools. “Internal multi-tiered systems of support would identify any person at risk in reading, math or behavior, and it was supposed that a student with dyslexia would manifest in one of those areas. As we learned more about dyslexia, we found that a lot of times, those students are successful early on and can be missed. Early intervention helps, and we need to expedite that process to identify students early.”
Before implementing the pilot program, Marietta City Schools talked to industry professionals. “As a district, everyone went through a very intensive training in the science of reading strategies from the top-down,” Bargallo says. “We do a lot of research and work ourselves for what we’re looking for and what’s best for kids to ensure our students are getting the best intervention and support.”
Before the pilot program, students at the City Schools of Decatur were assessed with a normal battery of universal screeners. “Specific dyslexia screening did not happen the way it does now, which created the issue of under-identifying students with dyslexia,” says superintendent Dr. Maggie Fehrman. “These students often are not easy to identify, even by experienced teachers, until they are older and their inability to read more advanced texts becomes evident.”
As established by the bill, CSD’s pilot program consists of infrastructure created to collaborate across literacy, multi-tiered system of supports, equity and student support; universal screening for all students in grades kindergarten through third; designing and implementing intervention based on student needs; monitoring their growth; making decisions based on data and reporting pilot data to the GaDOE.
A common misconception with the upcoming implementation of SB 48 is that it’ll diagnose dyslexia. “The purpose of the pilot is to identify students who have characteristics of dyslexia,” Bargallo says. “Students will still have to go to a private psychologist for a diagnosis.”
Bargallo is excited about SB 48. “I believe it will bring equity to students across the state,” she says. “Traditionally, this is an area where parents with means can help their child through private services or specialized schools. This will allow us to identify more students and do more to help them and have students graduating at greater rates.”
For more information, you can find a four-part video series explaining dyslexia, services offered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and structured literacy at gadoe.org.