Twenty-four percent of Alabama third-graders are below reading proficiency levels for their grade, according to research from the Public Affairs Research Council released Tuesday.
The scoring came from the Alabama Comprehensive Assessment Program, a required assessment that is one part of the 33-page Alabama Literacy Act passed in 2019. The law is being implemented in phases, as guided by a task force, and it will go into full effect next school year. In addition to the assessments and other monitoring, the act provides for third-grade students who do not read at grade level to be held back or directed to an appropriate reading intervention program.
“I think the things that we are doing are the right things to do. I appreciate the hard work of both the teachers and the students, and the regional coaches, and everyone has been working to implement the Literacy Act. It’s not just a one time test. It’s an all year effort,” Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, who sponsored the Literacy Act said. “We just need to keep pushing forward. And I’m sure that this next year, when the bill actually implements, the needing to be on grade level will once again see that sense of urgency, and I think that’s good.”
In the previous school year, 22 percent of third-graders were below grade level. The two percentage point decrease may be partly due to an updated curriculum and test, but Collins also noted this class was in kindergarten during the spring of 2020 and probably suffered from school closures.
“I don’t think it indicates something’s not going right. I think that there are several things that are involved: the core curriculum has just been implemented, and I think where the teachers have had a chance to get the professional development and learn to use the curriculum correctly, I think we’re seeing really good improvements. And that’s exciting,” Collins said. “Some of these students are the ones that were impacted very much with COVID, a few years ago, and they didn’t get an opportunity to get those, you know, harder gains that we had worked so hard for back in ‘20.”
All students below reading level not found to need reading intervention programs for dyslexia or other exempted learning disabilities may participate in optional literacy boot camps during the summer. According to Alabama State Superintendent Eric Mackey, about half of students who attend the boot camps test at grade level by the end of the summer. Collins expects attendance to improve this year. Beginning next year, students who test below grade level may be held back.
The scores came out soon after talk of the “Mississippi miracle,” that state’s jump from 49th to 21st in fourth-grade reading level from 2013 to 2022. Collins and other legislators met with the Mississippi Department of Education in 2018 to discuss the success before drafting the Literacy Act, partly modeled on Mississippi and Florida’s education reforms.
“I think that we are truly making a difference in the lives of children, and that’s what we want to do in education policy: have strong policies that we can implement well that make a difference in the lives and the achievement for our students.”