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Georgia lawmakers consider legislation that would make it easier to track student literacy

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Georgia lawmakers consider legislation that would make it easier to track student literacy

State Sen. Billy Hickman explains his literacy amendment, flanked by State Sen. Clint Dixon (left), State Rep. Bethany Ballard (right), Georgia Council on Literacy Chairman Scott Johnson (middle), and State Rep. Rey Martinez (far right). (Juma Sei/WABE)

By  | WABE

Third grade is a big year for young readers. Experts colloquially refer to it as the year students go from learning-to-read, to reading-to-learn.

This elementary school milestone was top of mind for State Rep. Bethany Ballard last year when she sponsored House Bill 538.

The bill overhauls how students in Georgia are taught to read, focusing on what happens in the classroom from kindergarten through third grade.

Lawmakers have spent much of their time since HB 538 passed helping bring that legislation to life. A key part of that is accountability, ensuring that schools can actually track student progress and identify struggling readers.

HB 538 requires that students start being regularly tested with something called a “screener” — a standardized test that measures where students are in their foundational literacy skills, and identifies students with learning challenges like dyslexia.

Right now, the Department of Education offers 13 different screeners.

But according to State Sen. Billy Hickman, that is a problem.

“Having multiple universal screeners makes it impossible to compare data from school system to school system,” Hickman said at a press conference this week. “We want every school to use the same free screener.”

Hickman has sponsored a legislative amendment that does exactly that.

“This amendment remedies this problem by requiring that all school systems use [the same] free-of-charge universal screener,” he continued.

Hickman said that schools would also be able to use different screeners if they choose. His amendment would create a mandatory, state-wide standard. He also emphasized that Gov. Brian Kemp has already designated about $5 million to pay for these tests.

The amendment was added to Senate Bill 464 — also known as the “School Supplies for Teachers Act” — sponsored by State Sen. Clint Dixon. Ballard, Hickman and Dixon are all Republicans.“This empowers parents to understand where their kids are,” Dixon said about his colleague’s amendment. “I believe in school choice [and] our parents need to be informed if their children are getting the support that they need.”

SB 464 has already cleared the Senate. It is now awaiting a vote in the House of Representatives.

Decaturish media partner WABE provided this story