How does Savannah-Chatham schools’ literacy rate compare to the rest of Georgia?

Published: Nov. 15, 2023 at 4:28 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 15, 2023 at 6:32 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

CHATHAM COUNTY, Ga. (WTOC) - This week is Literacy Week in Chatham County and the City of Savannah. The week is meant to mark the importance of reading county-wide.

It comes as the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System (SCCPSS) is working with a new sense of urgency to better teach students how to read.

SCCPSS has been up-front about the fact that their students are below Georgia’s state average when it comes to literacy. But just how far behind are they?

State testing data shows 43.5 percent of 3rd graders in Savannah-Chatham schools aren’t reading at grade level. Putting them behind their peers statewide by about 10 percent. 34.1 percent of 3rd graders across the state are reading below their grade level.

Bernadette Ball-Oliver is the district’s deputy superintendent of teaching and learning.

“It’s really critical that we understand that our students can’t get anywhere if they do not have the ability to read,” Ball-Oliver said.

Ball-Oliver said the district’s literacy rates took a hit after the pandemic.

While still behind the state average, 62 percent of the district’s 3rd graders were reading at grade level in 2019. Students tested about 6 percent lower this spring.

“Time that our students spent online, I think we saw some real impacts from that. Can you imagine trying to teach reading to a student strictly through a computer screen? That was a challenge,” Ball-Oliver said.

Breaking down the scores for the state’s English Language Arts test tells a bleaker story.

Students test into four categories: beginning, developing, proficient, and distinguished learners. The state of Georgia says these categories demonstrate whether a student is on-track for college and career readiness.

According to this spring’s end-of-course results, 71 percent of 3rd graders in Savannah Chatham tested below proficient, meaning they need additional or substantial academic help to stay on-track. That’s compared to 61 percent statewide.

Dr. Denise Watts, the superintendent for Savannah-Chatham schools, says literacy is one of her main focuses since taking the position earlier this year.

“We have work to do, right? Any time that we are saying that any student is not leaving our district proficient in reading there is work to do,” Dr. Watts said.

The district recently signed a proclamation pushing for 100 percent literacy among third graders. Something school leaders say, they’re going to continue to work toward.

“That’s what we’re aiming to do, so that they have as many options and opportunities as their heart’s desire.”

Savannah-Chatham schools are incorporating the “Science of Reading” into how they teach the subject to increase their literacy numbers.

WTOC is working on a story about how that approach is supposed to work. That story will air on THE News at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 16.