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Evidence-Based Solutions to Georgia’s Literacy Crisis

Only one-third of GA’s 4th graders can read proficiently. That means two-thirds of them do not have the skills that enable them to read to learn, a method to independently gain knowledge. Thus, they do not have the skills to meet Georgia’s workforce needs.

Increasing literacy across a learner’s lifetime does not require rocket-science interventions. Every person, except those with severe cognitive difficulties, can become a fluent reader. We have the tools to enable all Georgians to be literate.

Right now, in Georgia, there are many programs and people working at all parts of the literacy lifecycle. They have been working tirelessly on literacy for years and are vital parts of an ecosystem where literacy is a life-long, multi-generational, effort. Alas, while united in a common desire to create a literate workforce, their individual goals are not aligned. At best this creates redundancy and gaps, at worse, it causes agencies to work at cross purposes.

Current Georgia Legislative Effort

HR 650 created the House Study on Literacy Instruction to, one, address these program cross-purposes and two, unite all Georgia around evidence-based methods to ensure all Georgians are literate. By working together, using aligned, proven methods, all parts of the Georgia pipeline can create literate citizens who contribute to Georgia’s economy and continue a cycle of literacy for generations to come.  

It’s Not Rocket Science, But it Is Science

Literacy instructions need to be evidence-based. An evidence-based best-practice is generally agreed upon by researchers to be a practice that is studied via rigorous trials (trials with control groups that have significant numbers of participants from the target population), replicated in multiple settings, and withstands the test of peer-review (i.e. have been published in academic journals).

Evidence-based best-practices to improve reading outcomes all along the pipeline are not instruction methods, but rather programs that address at least one of Get Georgia Reading Campaign’s Four Pillars: language nutrition, access, positive learning climate, and teach preparation and effectiveness.

The Get Georgia Reading Campaign’s Four Pillars: language nutrition, access, positive learning climate, and teach preparation and effectiveness

Just as it takes four pillars to improve literacy outcomes, it takes five instruction components, working together, to create proficient learners: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.  

Third Grade Literacy is the Linchpin

Reading proficiently by the end of 3rd grade has been linked to a host of outcomes. Students who cannot read proficiently at 3rd grade are four times more likely than their proficient counterparts to drop out of high school and are more likely to experience long-term behavioral and mental health issues. This means, those that aren’t reading proficiently are more likely to end up in jail or in low wage jobs and propagate a negative cycle into the next generation.

Studies show that reading proficiency by the end of 3rd grade is fundamental to students’ future educational success. If a child is reading at level by the 3rd grade, they are 25% more likely to graduate high school than their non-reading peers;  they are more likely to take the ACT or SAT, and have higher average ACT and SAT scores compared to students in the other performance levels. Therefore, to improve overall literacy, we need to start with practices that improve 3rd grade reading skills.

There are many ways to improve 3rd grade reading skills – in fact – if we only focus on K-3, we will not make the strides we need to lift the 68% of below-proficient 3rd graders to proficient levels. 

There are evidence-based best-practices, all along the pipeline from birth to post-retirement, that can have a positive impact on reading skills.

Example Programs and Policies

2021 Fulton County Schools Plan: Every Child Reads

Currently, Fulton County Schools plans to utilize funds from the American Rescue Plan (federal Covid relief) to invest $90 million into their new literacy program, “Every Child Reads.” Like the Mississippi and NC Acts, the program is based upon the science of reading (as outlined by the National Reading Panel). It will focus on training teachers and administrators on teaching reading from an evidence-based approach and places designated reading coaches and paraprofessionals in every elementary school in the district. The district plans to use the Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) program for professional development. 

2021 Marietta City Schools Plan: Literacy and Justice for All

Marietta City Schools and the city of Marietta will work together to create a literacy ecosystem from birth to third grade. This program is paid for by a $2.5M grant from the United Way. It will consist of teacher training, professional development, community programming, and also early learning opportunities. It will rely on the LiteracyHow method.

2019 Georgia SB-48: The Dyslexia Bill

In 2019 Georgia passed SB48. This bill requires that:

  • Local school systems must screen all kindergarten students and certain grade 1-3 students for dyslexia by the 2024-25 school year.
  • The creation of a dyslexia teacher training and endorsement.
  • The create a dyslexia information handbook.

A recent update from the GA Department of Education stated that the handbook is already done, pilot programs are in place, and there are professional learning opportunities around dyslexia and the Science of Reading.

The GA DOE is already thinking about the Science of Reading and dyslexia screening. It has already created resources for teachers. SB48 is a great first step in improving literacy for all Georgians. Additionally, dyslexic children learn best via the Science of Reading methods; therefore, implementing the curriculum for the Science of Reading will add resources for all.

2021 NC Excellence in Public Schools Act

This year North Carolina passed SB-328 the Excellence Public Schools Act of 2021. The bill includes the following:

  • Defines the Science of Reading and Reading Proficiency.
  • Establishes a timeline for state agencies to create standards, for local school boards to comply, and for implementation to occur. It links release of funding to compliance.
  • Defines metrics to assess student, teacher, and district progress.
  • Defines what instruction teachers need to receive and from whom. Defines credible third party teacher training programs. Changes the standards for teachers’ licensure to align with what literacy proficient teaching.
  • Defines how to assess the students in their progress (including the ability to use digital assessment methods)
    • If students are not proficient, they need an Individual Reading Plan and must be held back
  • Mandates state agencies create “digital supplemental resources” for all children and parents.
  • Mandates creation of “reading camps” at the local scale.
  • Encourages public / private partnerships.

Mississippi Reading Legislation

Mississippi, implemented scientifically proven reading instruction in 2013. The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) measures proficiency in multiple subjects for 4th, 8th, and 12th graders. From 2013-2019 Mississippi’s 4th Grade Reading Proficiency scores jumped 10 points. In that same time period, Georgia’s scores remained flat.

Sponsored by Senator Gray Tollison, the Mississippi Literacy Based Promotion Act (LBPA) is an education bill that works to ensure kids are taught to read according to evidence-based science. The act focuses on identifying students enrolled in K-3 who need additional reading supports in reading. By targeting students early on, interventions are more likely to prove successful and result in on-target reading levels by 3rd grade. These interventions are built upon the science of reading, as laid out by the National Reading Panel (and supported by numerous peer reviewed studies). In 2016, the law was amended to include individual reading plans for students identified with a reading deficiency, and a higher cut score was established for third-grade promotion. The act includes:

  • Statewide training to support teachers with scientifically based reading instruction and intervention. 
  • Reading coaches to provide job-embedded training and support for teachers.
  • Early identification of K-3 students who have a reading deficiency. Parent notification and regular communication with parents of students identified with a reading deficiency.
  • Individual reading plans, created in collaboration with the parent, prescribing the immediate specialized instruction and supports that will be provided to the student identified with a reading deficiency.
  • Retention for third graders who do not meet the cut score for promotion.
  • Good cause exemptions from retention to recognize the needs of some students. Specific intervention services for retained third-grade students, including resources to support parents with literacy activities at home.

Since Mississippi enacted the Literacy Based Promotion Act in 2013 the state’s fourth-grade National assessment of educational progress reading scores have substantially improved. In 2013, 21 percent of fourth graders were proficient in reading, and by 2019, 31 percent of fourth graders were reading proficiently: a 10-percentage point increase. Mississippi also decreased the percentage of fourth graders scoring below basic by 12 percentage points, going from 47 percent scoring below basic to 35 percent. Furthermore, Mississippi is second in the nation in learning gains.

There is evidence also of student improvement on Mississippi’s statewide third-grade Mississippi Academic Assessment Program for English Language Arts assessment since the enactment of the LBPA. Over the past three years, there has been steady improvement in the pass rate on the reading portion of the third-grade Mississippi Academic Assessment Program for English Language Arts assessment, going from 87 percent passing to 93 percent—a 6 percentage point increase as illustrated in the following chart. Also, there has been drastic improvement in overall student performance on the third grade MAAP ELA assessment.

In partnership with Mississippi legislature, the Mississippi Department of Education has laid out detailed guidelines for the implementation of the LBPA. Currently the program includes extensive guidelines and support materials for teachers, school administrators, school districts, and families. Models and benchmarks are given to teachers and education professionals to aid in achieving literacy gains. The implementation guidelines also include approved, evidence-based methodologies and technologies for school districts to use in their efforts to increase literacy. Teachers are trained in literacy through Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS), in addition to regional literacy resources through the MDOE.

Take Action

Learn more about how to improve children’s literacy skills.

Write your legislator and encourage them to learn about legislation that can teach children to read using evidence-based practices.

Learn how to write a good letter here.

Get involved in the House Study Committee on Literacy Instruction.

Learn how to read an academic paper.

Citations and Further Reading

Literacy Based Promotion Act, 2013 Legislative Session (MS SB 2347):

2014 Mississippi Code for Literacy Based Promotion Act:

Literacy Based Promotion Act, 2016 Legislative Session (MS SB 2157):

Mississippi Department of Education report detailing specifics of LBPA implementation strategies:

Mississippi Department of Education 2017 Mississippi Comprehensive Literacy Plan:

Mississippi Department of Education 2022 Budget Request

Excellent Public Schools Act of 2021, 2021 Legislative Session (NC SB 387):

Fulton County Schools “Every Child Reads” Literacy Plan:$file/FCSBridge_BoardMeeting_5-13-21.pdf

Reading on Grade Level in Third Grade: How is it Related to High School Performance and College Enrollment: This study by the University of Chicago analyzes education outcomes against the third grade reading level.

Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation: This study shows how poverty relates to third grade reading levels and high school graduation rates, and explores the greater issue of generational illiteracy and poverty.

Third-Grade Reading Policies. Reading/Literacy: Preschool to Third Grade: This paper identifies intervention and support programs and policy for pre-k – 3rd grade readers in states across the United States.

Literacy Based Promotion Act Research and Overview: This paper gives an in depth overview on the effects the LBPA has had on Mississippi education outcomes.

National Reading Panel Report – Teaching Children To Read: An Evidence-Based Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature on Reading and Its Implications for Reading Instruction:

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