Third grade literacy a top focus of Georgia Senate’s GOP leaders



The vast majority of students graduate from high school in Georgia yet only a fraction can read well in third grade, the year the skill becomes crucial for future academic success.

The gap doesn’t pass the smell test, Republican leaders in the Georgia Senate said Thursday, in explaining why they plan to make literacy among young students a top priority during this year’s legislative session.

“So much emphasis in recent years, and rightly so, has been put on increasing graduation rates as the benchmark for educational success,” said Senate Majority Leader Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega. “However, we need to make sure that graduation equals preparation. Having graduation and literacy rates in line with one another is a strategic imperative and is a priority of this body.”

The chairman of the Senate’s Higher Education Committee, Billy Hickman, R-Statesboro, will lead the initiative with the new head of the chamber’s committee for K-12 policy, Sen. Clint Dixon, R-Buford.

Hickman noted that Georgia has been adding a lot of jobs lately, but he said the state cannot develop a workforce for those jobs when so many children can’t read.

“Every school system we look at has got graduation rates of 85, 90, 95 percent, but when you really dig into it, the children can’t read,” Hickman said. “That’s the passion behind this.”

The Georgia Department of Education, which oversees testing, reported this summer that just 36% of third graders scored proficient or better on the 2022 state Milestones tests for English Language Arts, which measure reading and writing. That means nearly two-thirds of those students could not read or explain texts at their grade level.

The agency also reported that the graduation rate was 84%.

The 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress, a test of randomly selected students that is administered for the federal government, reported that less than a third of Georgia’s fourth and eighth grade students were reading proficiently or better. The scores were about the same as in 2019 and on a par with the rest of the country.

Hickman, whose wife is a retired teacher, said he and his Senate colleagues will be exploring potential barriers to learning. They’ll study pre-kindergarten and teacher preparation and training, among other things.