Explaining the new literacy instructional method coming to Savannah-Chatham schools

Published: Nov. 16, 2023 at 10:46 AM EST|Updated: Nov. 16, 2023 at 6:18 PM EST
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Schools within the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System are behind the state average for students reading on grade level. Georgia’s lawmakers and area school leaders are taking action to improve these numbers.

Just this past April, Governor Brian Kemp signed the “Georgia Early Literacy Act” into law, shifting the focus on reading instruction to what’s known as the “Science of Reading.”

The WTOC Investigates team has been looking into what the “Science of Reading” is and how Savannah-Chatham schools are getting a head start at implementing these changes.

The new law targets 3rd grade as a crucial time for students, as this is when they switch from learning to read to reading to learn. Savannah-Chatham schools have already begun to implement an instructional system for their teachers focused on the “Science of Reading.”

Savannah-Chatham school leaders say the “Science of Reading” is a more specific and personalized approach to teaching the subject.

“It basically means that you are teaching reading centered around five pillars, that’s phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension, and our instruction is rooted in those five pillars,” Teaching and Learning SCCPSS Deputy Superintendent Bernadette Ball-Oliver said.

At a school board meeting in September, the district approved the more than $2.7 million purchase of a program called Lexia Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling – better known as LETRS. It’s meant to improve how teachers train students to read and is based on the science of reading.

“We’re following the science in that we’re looking at making sure that our teachers have additional tools and they’re armed with best practices so that they’re able to walk in every day confident that I can attain that goal for every single child in their classroom,” Ball-Oliver said.

Georgia’s new law will begin requiring similar professional trainings for teachers in grades Kindergarten to 3rd grade statewide. It’s an approach that’s proven successful in Chatham County’s public charter schools. The district’s charter school students tested above the state average in 3rd grade reading this spring.

“You’re going back to teaching children steps, incremental steps on how to read versus getting them to memorize and associate,” Savannah Classical Academy CEO Barry Lollis said.

The law also requires early intervention in students who aren’t reading at grade level. That’s something parents within the school system say has made all the difference for their students.

“Intervention was a great idea. If we didn’t try to tackle it from the beginning, he probably would’ve fallen short in reading,” Savannah Classical Academy parent Jo Sanders said.

By taking this approach, school leaders say they’re confident in the future of literacy instruction in the county.

“We hope to definitely see increases in our reading scores for our students. We’re definitely looking at through providing our teachers with the professional learning that they need, that we’ll see increases,” Ball-Oliver said.

Statewide, kindergarten through 3rd grade teachers have until July 2025 to complete training based on the “Science of Reading.” Savannah-Chatham school administrators have already started their training with LETRS, and teachers will begin in January.

The district will also be training teachers up to 5th grade.