Some DeKalb teachers behind in completing training on science of reading

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Only about half of the DeKalb County teachers who signed up for a rigorous training on how to teach reading have completed the training, district officials told the school board this week.

The state’s third-largest school district has so far invested more than $1 million in the effort, which focuses on an approach called “the science of reading.” A new law and academic standards approved this year mean teachers will have to focus on phonics in teaching students to read.

DeKalb, like other metro Atlanta school districts, has gotten a head start. Last year, 847 teachers signed up to complete training via Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling, or LETRS, a professional learning program. District officials have likened the training to graduate-level coursework. It aims to show teachers how we learn to read, and how to help students develop language skills.

But of those 847 who started the two-year program, only 430 completed the portion expected in the first year, said Chief Academic Officer Stacy Stepney at a board meeting this week. Another 417 started, but still need to finish. Additionally, the district paid for another 153 licenses that are still unused, meaning that more people can start the training this year.

Now, officials will be trying to reengage the roughly 400 educators who didn’t finish the training, and find new ones who are interested in starting. They expect a higher completion rate this year. DeKalb officials weren’t clear on why some teachers haven’t completed the training.

When the program began, it was “highly recommended” that teachers participate, Stepney told board members. Under the new state law, all kindergarten through third grade teachers will be expected to have completed training on the science of reading by 2025.

“We did not have the benefit of the law being passed yet when we started our journey,” she said. “Now that we have the teeth of the law, I believe the invitations (to participate in the training) will be treated differently.”

Board members wanted to know whether the program has been working. Stepney said that district officials went through the training last year themselves. This year, they plan to observe teachers to see if and how the strategies are being implemented.

Only about one-third of DeKalb third graders scored proficient or better on the most recent state English language arts exam.