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Advocates for children with dyslexia hopeful of new law that mandates screenings

The mandated testing for all schools will start in 2024, but test groups in schools throughout Georgia are already starting a three-year study group this year.

As many as 360,000 Georgia kids may be struggling to read.

That’s up to 20 percent of the population, but before this year, Georgia did not have a uniform way of diagnosing what was wrong. A new dyslexia testing mandate could soon help by addressing the problem in Kindergarten through 3rd grade.

For many young people, before a diagnosis, they know they learn differently, but they don't know why.

"If I had one thing back, it would have been time," said Molly Sipp.

Sipp's oldest daughter always struggled to read, but she didn't realize how bad it was until the summer before 2nd grade.

"She sat down very reluctantly, and the word the, she couldn't read it. And I said, 'you have been looking at this word for 2 years,' and she started crying," she said. "And she said, 'mom, I don't know this word."

As a family, they struggled to figure out the best way to help her, but her school was struggling to support her, too.

"She went to the library and there's a big chart as to what your reading level is, and in the 2nd grade, she was reading at a Kindergarten level and all her friends were above. It was horrifying. She was so upset," she said.

Advocate and Attorney Sarah Crossman Sullivan said it's something thousands of kids in this state experience every day.

"What's incredible in Georgia is that for so long it didn't recognize dyslexia as a learning difference. If you don't recognize it exists, how can you ever make changes to better people," asked Crossman Sullivan.

She thinks the new law -  signed by Governor Brian Kemp - which mandates screening for every child will be a great start. However, they will have to closely watch how many children are flagged.

"In a rural community, if now 20 percent of a population is now diagnosed with dyslexia, if we don't provide the resources to help these kids, they're going to be in a world of trouble," she said. " Georgia is moving in the right direction, but we have to be honest that we still have a long way to go, but we can do it together."

Students and parents are encouraged though that kids who need help will get it earlier and they can figure out how to learn in their own way, like Molly's daughter. 

"She is curious and smart and is in to science and medicine and asks tons of questions," said Sipp. 

The mandated testing for all schools will start in 2024, but test groups in schools throughout Georgia are already starting a three-year study group this year.

But only kids in third grade and below will be tested with the new mandate,. so advocates worry how they'll reach those.

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