By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter
Following a report card that left Alabama with a C in education, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced a slew of new policies as a part of her “Strong Start, Strong Finish” education initiative.
Ivey announced the policies on Friday during a speech at a Public Affairs Research Council meeting in Birmingham. The governor released details through her press office late that day.
One of the governor’s strategy, titled “Alabama Grade-Level Reading Campaign,” relies on raising the reading proficiency of third-graders to 100 percent by 2022. This means that all third-graders will be able to read on a third-grade or higher level.
In the 2017 results from reading portion of the ACT Aspire exam, which tests third through eighth-graders and tenth graders, only 39 percent of students in Alabama were at or above their grade level in reading proficiency.
Of those tested, 27 percent were close to proficiency and 34 percent—the plurality of students—needed support to reach proficiency.
The exam is now defunct with the state Board of Education axing the test in a board meeting last year.
Ivey’s office also noted that low-income children face a tough challenge and are more likely to know fewer words than their well-off counterparts.
The governor plans to remedy the gap by promoting a home visitation program to teach parents to better guide their children into educational roles in another of her policy initiatives called “Strong Families=Strong Start.”
Ivey also announced during the speech that she was working with the Alabama State Department of Education to add new categories on the state report card.
The report card rates Alabama on a A-F scale and is based on the five categories of chronic absenteeism, academic achievement, academic growth, college/career readiness, and graduation rates.
Specifically, Ivey said she was working with the department to include teacher chronic absenteeism on the report card. Chronic absenteeism is defined in the report as missing 15 days or more of class.
Student chronic absenteeism is already a part of the report and the final grade for student absenteeism was a B with economically disadvantaged, disabled, and American Indian students topping the list for chronic absenteeism.
Ivey also asked if student engagement, a means by which she hopes to combat chronic absenteeism, could be quantified for the next report. Student engagement, while not receiving a letter grade on the report, was rated district-by-district in the final report.
Other initiatives announced during the speech included a summer educational program to “produce statistically significant gains in reading performance.” The program, “Alabama Summer Achievement Program,” would be for students who are below their grade-level proficiency in grades 1-3.
In terms of budget increases, Ivey proposed that $5 million be allocated for the Alabama Reading Initiative, which was created to improve reading and literacy rates among public school students.
Changes to the program will include a incentive-based program that rewards schools that show the greatest improvements to third grade reading. The governor’s plan also calls for regional reading coaches in underperforming elementary schools across the state.
The proposals come at a time when Alabama’s educational structure faces an uncertain future.
The State Board of Education is currently finalizing plans to conduct a state and nationwide search for a new state superintendent after Michael Sentance resigned from the position amid tensions with the board last September.
While the board searches for the candidate, the state Legislature has ambitions to completely reorganize the makeup of the Department of Education with two bills that are circulating the statehouse.
One bill, sponsored by state Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, would eliminate the board entirely and replace it with a cabinet-level position that would be appointed by the governor. At its first public hearing last week, senators voted to stall the bill citing that it may need to be worked on through multiple Legislative Sessions.
The other bill, sponsored by state Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, would add four non-voting positions to the Board of Education and set qualifications for members of the Board of Education. The bill was protested by board members at the House Education Policy committee meeting in January.
Collins’ bill got a favorable report from the committee meetings in January.