Georgia lawmakers have passed a new bill that aims to improve early literacy instruction in the state’s schools. The Georgia Early Literacy Act (House Bill 538), sponsored by Rep. Bethany Ballard, R-Warner Robins, will require schools to screen students from kindergarten to third grade on their reading proficiency three times a year. Those who are identified as falling behind in reading will receive an individual reading improvement plan and intensive reading intervention until they catch up.
The Science of Reading
One of the key components of the bill is the focus on “the science of reading.” This teaching method draws on evidence from psychology and neuroscience and includes phonics instruction to help children learn how to read. School systems will be required to provide training for teachers in this approach to reading instruction, and the state’s Georgia Assessments for Certification of Educators (GACE) will be redesigned so that its certification requirements align with this teaching method.
“The Georgia Early Literacy Act is a giant step forward in literacy education and will be life-changing for our state’s children,” said Rep. Ballard. “Today is the day we will make sure all Georgia’s children learn to read.”
Screening Tools and Training
In addition to the focus on the science of reading, the bill will require the state Board of Education to develop a list of high-quality, evidence-backed reading instructional and screening tools for school districts. The state Department of Education will also provide support for local school districts to implement these tools and training programs.
The state’s education agency will also be required to issue an annual report on the implementation of the new bill, starting in 2026.
Council on Literacy
A companion bill sponsored by state Sen. Billy Hickman, R-Statesboro, requires the establishment of a 30-member Council on Literacy. The council will include state legislators, a state Board of Education member, literacy experts, teachers, and local school district officials. The council will be responsible for ensuring the implementation of the Early Literacy Act and providing an annual report that includes recommendations for addressing problems in the state’s literacy efforts.
“This is a necessary step in creating an educated workforce that will better our state for years to come,” said Sen. Hickman.
Current Reading Levels in Georgia
The passage of the Early Literacy Act comes after the latest Georgia Milestones testing results showed that 36.2% of Georgia third graders are reading below grade level. This statistic highlights the need for improved literacy instruction in the state’s schools.
Passage and Next Steps
Both the Early Literacy Act and the Council on Literacy bill passed nearly unanimously in the state House and Senate. The bills will now be sent to Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature. If signed into law, the legislation will go into effect during the 2022-2023 school year.
The passage of the Georgia Early Literacy Act is a significant step towards improving reading proficiency in Georgia’s schools. By requiring screening for early reading intervention, providing training in the science of reading, and creating a Council on Literacy to oversee implementation and provide recommendations, Georgia is taking proactive steps to ensure that all children have the opportunity to learn how to read.