Thousands of third-graders could be held back by Alabama’s reading law, school superintendent warns

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama’s superintendent said Thursday that 10,000 or more third-graders could be at risk of being prevented from moving to fourth grade this summer because of new reading standards.

The high-stakes requirement goes into effect this school year. State lawmakers delayed implementation until this year to give students and schools time to recover from pandemic-related learning losses.

“This is the year that’s going to happen to these current third graders,” Superintendent Eric Mackey said Thursday as the Alabama State Board of Education approved the scores more than 50,000 students must achieve to advance to fourth grade.

In 2019, the legislature passed the Alabama Literacy Act, which requires third graders to meet reading standards before moving on to fourth grade. Students must achieve a minimum score on the state’s standardized reading assessment or otherwise demonstrate through a portfolio that they have mastered all state third-grade reading standards.

Gov. Kay Ivey said in August she opposed any further delays to the retention provision.

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Mackey said board members had to set a new score for the Alabama Comprehensive Assessment Program because the state changed its reading test to align with the latest standards.

Mackey said it was difficult to estimate how many students would remain below that score, but he estimated between 10,000 and 12,000.

That doesn’t mean they all have to repeat third grade because some of them will go to summer school and take the test again, Mackey said. Others are encouraged through a reading portfolio assessment, he said.

Three board members voted against setting the value at Mackey’s recommended level, saying it was too low.

“We do a great disservice when we set the bar too low,” said board member Stephanie Bell.

The board will likely consider resetting the score next year.

The law requires retraining of teachers in reading instruction, regular reading assessments in kindergarten through third grade, reading coaches to support teachers in their instructional practices, and summer reading camps to bring struggling readers up to speed.

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