Georgia’s new dyslexia law was explained at the ACT and MIC Education Town Hall

[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 a Board of Education meeting to discuss two bills recently 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 from MIC and Elliott Hennington from ACT. The two kept the conversation going by reading questions that had been asked by residents in advance of the forum.

Kimberly Gregory, Dyslexia Support Coordinator at Metro RESA, was on hand to discuss the new dyslexia law.

Cobb school board members Leroy “Tre” Hutchins and Becky Sayler, as well as former Georgia state representative and candidate for superintendent Alisha Thomas Searcy, were on the panel to discuss the bill’s divisive concepts.

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

Senate Bill 48

The purpose of Senate Bill 48 is to provide early screening for dyslexia to all students in Georgia and to establish a process for training and “certification” (certification) of teachers to identify dyslexia in students, work with dyslexic students, and provide them with appropriate to offer support.

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

“There is also a focus on ensuring we have properly credentialed and qualified educators in all of our K-12 classrooms to support students with dyslexia,” she said.

“As part of Senate Bill 48, we are adopting and using the International Dyslexia Association’s definition of dyslexia and other related disorders. These characteristics guide the screening process used by each district, particularly Cobb County, and determine whether or not a student requires additional support or intervention through the multi-tiered support systems.”

“Every student entering kindergarten in the 2024-2025 school year will be evaluated by one of the approved assessors and will participate in a comprehensive program at their school that will allow them to receive responses to interventions,” Gregory said.

“At Metro RESA, our role in this entire process is to ensure that teachers are supported,” she said. “And with this support, we are working to ensure that there are enough qualified candidates in every district who are aware of the principles of Senate Bill 48, who are able to support students and who are also able to support administrators .”

She said Cobb County has been a shining star in implementing Senate Bill 48 and that all 52 school psychologists have been trained and supported in Cobb’s system.

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

“If you know educators in your community who would like to be supported, one of the most important principles is that they must 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 asked by a resident: Are there different types of dyslexia and how are they identified?

“Dyslexia can take different forms,” she said.

Gregory said dyscalculia (difficulty calculating or understanding numbers) and dysgraphia (impaired writing ability) are common among students with dyslexia.

“Because dyslexia is a neurobiological disorder, we know that the order, the identification of letters, symbols, sounds, all of these things can be distorted when we look at how students first learn to read,” she said.

“The passage of Senate Bill 48 is timely because we know that early intervention is necessary so that we can help students with dyslexia and support them in their ability to read,” Gregory said.

Cope told Gregory that most people use the term “support” to mean supporting a political candidate. He asked Gregory what the term “advocacy” means in an educational context.

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

Hennington said a resident asked about the Student Support Teams (SST) and asked her to explain what the program was about and how it worked.

“There are multi-tiered support systems within school systems, generally led by an SST officer,” she said. “Every school is required to have one, and this is part of Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act. So in Section 504 we require that everyone have some type of student support team at their school.”

“Now that we’re dealing with dyslexia, a lot of the work that’s going to go into getting a child into intensive intervention is driven by that student support team,” Gregory said. “So let’s say we screen students at an elementary school in someone else’s community and then they find out that maybe 100 students were screened and successfully identified as needing additional dyslexia support.”

“Once this has happened, the SST will take over and provide intensive support to the child. “Once all support measures have been exhausted and progress is being made, they will be permitted to reduce the scope of interventions.

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

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

“The great thing about this bill is that this bill was really championed by parents whose children had dyslexia and never really received individual support,” Gregory said. “Your children may receive specialist support for SLD (specific learning disabilities).”

“So parents advocated for this bill and worked really hard to get it implemented across our state,” she said.

“And if there are some systematic processes in place to help teachers see what’s really happening with kids so they can appropriately support them in the classroom, that’s a win-win situation,” Gregory said. “So the kids definitely benefit, but in the end our community, our students, our teachers, our parents and our community stakeholders will win.”

Cope asked Gregory how parents should deal with the possible stigma if their child is diagnosed with dyslexia.

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

“I think that everyone in the districts, particularly in Cobb, is very careful to ensure that there is no labeling process and that students are not grouped inappropriately and that this allows students to participate in this work.” so they can all support the children and not feel like there is a stigma attached to it,” she said.

Hennington asked whether screening would be voluntary or mandatory.

Gregory said screening will be offered universally, but parents will have the option to opt out.

At the end of the session, Gregory said, “Thank you all for having me. And I look forward to seeing you all on the streets of Cobb County. I also live in Cobb County. So I’m just excited about the work we’re all doing.”