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Finance and Taxation Education Committee briefed on state program to improve literacy


Alabama Superintendent of Education Dr. Eric Mackey spoke to the Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee. Mackey addressed the committee on the state department of education’s efforts on improving literacy.

We have a literacy task force,” Mackey said. “We are very proud and happy to have the Literacy Act.”

“A task force is meeting,” Mackey said. “Their main purposes are to vet, form an assessment of K-12 reading, and vet materials.”

“We have 14 venders who responded to a request to bid,” Mackey said. We narrowed that down to six and the finally three. We have sent letters offering them to present their best price statewide. “We will get a statewide price from all venders. I can not tell you which three are the final three.”

“The Alabama Action Plan for Literacy is being revised by a committee formed by the Literacy Act,” Mackey explained. An eight person committee will be meeting between now and June to revise the Alabama Action Plan for Literacy.”

“We are relying on outside experts who have done work in other states,” Mackey told the committee.

Mackey said that the department is hiring 53 state reading specialists. “Each of them will be assigned to the lowest performing schools.“ The poorest performing five percent will have a reading specialist in their school every single day. The schools that are having the least difficulty will see a specialist once a quarter. The schools in the middle will see a reading specialist once a month. “The focus is on the most needy schools.”

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“We are around 40th in (fourth grade) reading,” Mackey said. “We are lower in math. We were in the state average ten years ago, but have dropped.”

“We will be going to a new test for reading,” Mackey explained. “Our current test is not accepted by the federal government so I had to get a new test. “We could have lost a $half a billion in federal money if we had not done that.”

“In the eighth grade we are 49th on reading,” Senator Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said. ‘How did we lose our way?”

Orr chairs the committee.

Mackey said that before the Great Recession the ARI (Alabama Reading Initiative) budget was $70 million. That was cut to $40 million. “All the summer training for teachers and reading coaches went away. We have many teachers who have turned over in the last ten certainly twenty years who have never had any training in those ARI modules.”

Mackey said that a report came out that was not favorable to Alabama Schools of Education. “We do not prescribe their curriculum.”

State Senator Jabo Wagoneer, R-Vestavia Hills, asked, “I chaired a committee on Artificial Intelligence there seems to be some concern at the college and higher education level that our K-12 students are not prepared in technology Where are we on technology in our K-12 schools.”

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“Compared to surrounding states we are actually ahead,” Mackey said. “We are the fifth state in the nation to meet all the criteria. We are ahead of at least 45 other states.”

“We put in place a three-year plan to offer a computer science course in every high school,” Mackey said. “The next year we will offer computer science in every middle school. The third year we will offer it in every elementary school. Hundreds of elementary schools are already offering computer science.”

The Governor is asking for more money for reading coaches and ARI in the 2021 education trust fund budget (ETF).

In 2019, the Alabama Legislature approved a state constitutional amendment that, if ratified by voters, would replace the elected Alabama’s State Board of Education with a commission appointed by the governor. Amendment one will be on the March 3 ballot.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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