IDA-GA Response to Georgia’s ESSA Draft Plan

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July 14, 2017  The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the nation’s new education law, requires states to develop plans that address standards, assessments, school and district accountability, and special help for struggling schools and students. The Georgia DOE has released a draft of Georgia’s ESSA Plan. Click here to watch 5 short overview videos, each focusing on a different key area of the plan.

July 14, 2017, was the last day to provide feedback to the Georgia Department of Education regarding its draft of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). On September 18, 2017, the final State Plan will be submitted, and once approved, this education law will be in effect for some time to come. IDA-GA, Decoding Dyslexia, and shared thoughts on Georgia’s plan and each submitted formal feedback.  IDA-GA submitted the feedback via the survey link provided by the GA DOE, and an email was sent to Governor Nathan Deal and the president of the Georgia Department of Education.

The International Dyslexia Association Georgia’s response (7/14/2017):

As Georgia voters who care about all children receiving a high quality education, the International Dyslexia Association Georgia Branch is writing to strongly urge you to improve Georgia’s plan for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) so that it considers the needs of children with reading issues that are the result of the learning disability dyslexia.

In the 2015-2016 school year, more than 68,000 students in Georgia were identified with specific learning disabilities. This represents 37% of all students with disabilities in our state. We would counter that many struggling readers are not properly assessed making that number much higher. We know that approximately 15%-20% of the population has a language-based learning disability. Of those who are students, 70-80% struggle with reading. Dyslexia is the most common cause of reading, writing and spelling difficulties. And sadly, we know 74% of children who are poor readers in 3rd grade remain poor readers in the 9th grade and into adulthood.

Georgia’s draft plan excels in some areas–including a discussion of the IDEA improvement plan shows how the GaDOE works to support students with disabilities across all programs–which is very important to making sure students are included in schools! However, there are areas for improvement.

Here are four specific changes IDA-GA would like to see you make that will help students with reading challenges in Georgia:

First, Georgia needs to set rigorous achievement goals that are the same for all groups of students, including those with learning issues. The Georgia draft plan sets much lower long-term goals for students with disabilities compared to the goals for other groups. For example, to meet the long-term goals, only 63.20% of elementary students with disabilities need to be proficient in reading, compared to 77.67% of all elementary students. In middle school reading, only 58.02% of students with disabilities need to be proficient, compared to 79.25% of all students. And, only 76.09% of students with disabilities need to graduate to meet the long-term goal, compared to 88.74% of all students.

Setting different goals for different students sends a message that the state of Georgia does not believe students with disabilities can successfully achieve in school and the state is not prepared to provide the necessary tools for improvement. The state should set consistent long-term goals for all groups of students and provide the necessary teacher training and tools for all students to reach those standards.

Second, we are concerned that the intervention resources listed in ESSA will not really help educators to determine which interventions to choose. Our research-based information supports the need for structured literacy, which includes multisensory strategies, for struggling readers based on IDA’s Knowledge and Practice Standards for Reading.

Third, we believe early identification and intervention is essential for struggling readers to succeed. We cannot wait until second grade to intervene. With proper assessment tools, dyslexic students can be identified in kindergarten. Schools must have the resources to quickly recognize when students are struggling and take quick action to help them meaningfully improve. By providing support and resources to help schools improve, we can identify schools for productive purposes rather than punitive ones.

Fourth, like you, we believe ongoing teacher training is vital to the success of ESSA. We believe schools need independent guidance to determine quality training. The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) issues certifications recognizing professionals with the knowledge and skills to teach individuals with dyslexia to read. The purpose of these credentials is to appropriately assess a professional’s ability to provide the necessary remediation for individuals with dyslexia and offer information to the public to choose qualified professionals.

This is just the beginning of the hard work that is ahead as parents, educators and policymakers work together to help the law fulfill its goal of providing every student a high-quality education. I hope you will consider this feedback before you finalize Georgia’s ESSA plan. Like you, we hope to see every student succeed. We will not give up – until everyone can read!