Georgia’s new dyslexia law explained at ACT and MIC education town hall

education icon with silhouette of teach in front of class, holding a baton to a board.

[The ACT and MIC education town hall was long and packed with information. The Courier is covering it in two parts so that the articles are clear and readable. This is Part 1, the discussion on the state’s dyslexia bill]

On October 12 the Austell Community Task Force (ACT) and the Mableton Improvement Coalition (MIC) held an education town hall to discuss two recent bills passed by the Georgia legislature: Senate Bill 48, which addressed dyslexia, and House Bill 1084—often called the “divisive concepts” bill.

The discussion was led by Joel Cope of MIC, and Elliott Hennington of ACT. The two of them kept the conversation moving by reading questions that had been submitted by residents in advance of the forum.

On hand to discuss the new dyslexia law was Metro RESA Dyslexia Endorsement Coordinator Kimberly Gregory.

Cobb school board members Leroy “Tre” Hutchins and Becky Sayler, and former Georgia state representative Alisha Thomas Searcy were on the panel to discuss the divisive concepts bill. [an earlier version of this article stated that Searcy was a candidate for state school superintendent. This was outdated information, and we regret the error]

In this article, the Courier will cover the discussion of Senate Bill 48, the state’s new law that sets the framework for early detection and support for students with dyslexia.

Senate Bill 48

The purpose of Senate Bill 48 is to provide early screening for dyslexia for all Georgia students and to set up a process for training and “endorsing” (certifying) teachers to recognize dyslexia in students and to work with dyslexic students and provide them with appropriate support.

Kimberly Gregory said the immediate goal is “to successfully roll out in the school year 2024-2025 a screening process for every child in the state of Georgia to be screened for dyslexia.”

“There also is a focus on making sure that we have educators who are duly endorsed and who are qualified to be able to support students with dyslexia in all of our K-12 classrooms,” she said.

“Inside of Senate Bill 48 we are adopting and using the International Dyslexia Association definition of what is dyslexia and other related disorders. Those characteristics will guide the screening process that will be used by each district, especially Cobb County, and identify whether or not a student needs to receive additional supports or interventions through the multi-tiered systems of support.”

“Every student who is entering kindergarten in the 2024-2025 school year will be screened with one of the approved screeners, and they will engage in a comprehensive program at their school that allows for them to receive response for intervention,” Gregory said.

“At Metro RESA our role in this entire process is making sure that teachers are endorsed,” she said. “And in that endorsement, we are working to make sure that there are enough qualified candidates within every district who are aware of the tenets of Senate Bill 48, who are able to support students and also be able to support administrators.”

She said that Cobb County is a shining star in the rollout of Senate Bill 48, and that all 52 school psychologists in Cobb’s system have been trained and endorsed.

By the end of this school year, Cobb County should have at least 250 educators with a dyslexia endorsement on their Georgia Professional Standards certificate, she said.

“If you know educators inside of your community who would like to be endorsed, one of the major tenets is that they need to have at least two to three years of teaching experience and currently hold a valid Georgia Professional Standards teacher license …,” Gregory said.

Hennington asked Gregory a question that had been submitted by a resident: Are there different types of dyslexia, and how are they identified?

“Dyslexia can take on various forms,” she said.

Gregory said that dyscalculia (difficulty calculating or understanding numbers) and dysgraphia (impaired ability to write) are often present in students with dyslexia.

“Because dyslexia is a neurobiological disorder, we know that sequencing, identification of letters, symbols, sounds, all of those things can be distorted when looking at how students are starting to learn how to read for the first time,” she said.

“The passing of Senate Bill 48 is so timely because we know that early intervention is necessary for us to be able to help and support those students with dyslexia to be able to read,” said Gregory.

Cope said to Gregory that when most people use the term “endorsement” they use it in terms of supporting a political candidate. He asked Gregory what the term “endorsement” means in an education context.

Gregory said that endorsements are added certifications showing the teacher is qualified to provide support to students in the classroom, in this case working with students with dyslexia.

Hennington said a resident had asked about The Student Support Teams (SST), and he asked her to explain what the program is about and how it works.

“Inside of school systems, we have multi-tiered systems of support that are generally run by an SST chairperson,” she said. “Every school is required to have one and this is a part of the Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act. So inside Section 504, we require that everyone has some form of student support team in place within their school.”

“Now with that being said, as it relates to dyslexia a lot of the work that will happen in terms of moving a child into intensive intervention will be determined by that Student Support Team,” Gregory said. “So let’s say we screen students in an elementary school that’s in someone’s community and then they find out that they may have 100 students who were screened and successfully found that they needed additional support for dyslexia.”

“Once that takes place the SST will then take over and they will have that child engaged in some intensive support. “Once all supports have been exhausted, If they make progress, then they are allowed to reduce the amount of intervention.

“But let’s say they need even more intensive support,” Gregory said. “That student may be referred for special education services.”

Hennington said a resident asked who the bill would likely benefit.

“The great thing about this bill is that this bill was really advocated for by parents whose kids had dyslexia and never really truly received individualized support,” Gregory said. “Their kids may receive specialized support under the umbrella of SLD, (specific learning disabilities).”

“So parents advocated for this bill and worked really hard to be able to have it seen across our state,” she said.

“And by having some systematic processes in place that support teachers who will be able to identify what’s really happening with kids so that they can be able to support them adequately through classroom instruction is a win-win,” Gregory said. “So kids are definitely benefiting but our community along with our students, our teachers, and our parents, and our community stakeholders are going to win at the end of this.”

Cope asked Gregory how a parent should deal with the possible stigma if the child is diagnosed as dyslexic.

Gregory said that’s one of the advantages of early detection because elementary school is one of the safest places to be different.

“I think everyone is working in districts, especially in Cobb, to be very sensitive to make sure that there’s not a labeling process taking place and that students aren’t being grouped inappropriately, and that will allow for students to engage inside of this work so that they all will be able to support the kids and not feel like there’s any stigma attached to it,” she said.

Hennington asked if the screening was voluntary or mandatory.

Gregory said the screening is going to be offered universally, but parents have an opt-out available.

At the end of the session, Gregory said, “Thank you all for having me. And I look forward to seeing you all in Cobb County streets. I’m a Cobb County resident as well. So I’m just excited for the work that all of us are doing.”