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PARCA report details increase in third grade reading sufficiency

The number of Alabama third-graders reading below grade level in 2024 is almost half of the number from 2023.

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Last week, the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama released its latest measure of statewide third-grade reading tests. The number of Alabama’s third graders reading below grade level dropped 8 percentage points in 2024. 

In 2023, over 9,000 third-graders were performing below grade level, but this year, under 5,000 third-graders were at or above grade level. The top improving categories were rural counties and charter schools.

The study also explores some of this year’s factors that could further explain an uptick like recovering from the pandemic in a classroom and the new sense of urge surrounding an effective retention provision.

The Alabama Literacy Act was passed in 2019 and began assessing the educational needs of third-grade students below their reading levels and directing additional resources for select students to improve.

 The Alabama Literacy Act also added a retention component that took effect this year. For the first time, if third graders were not reading at or above grade level, they would be offered a voluntary summer reading program starting this summer and opportunities to retake the test.

After the voluntary summer program and taking it a second or third time until passing, students would be eligible to move to the next grade level this August.

The largest systems in the state saw the percentage points tick down. Birmingham City Schools cut the percentage of students below reading level in half and Montgomery County School System saw a significant decrease.

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Since Birmingham City Schools and Montgomery County Schools are two of the largest school systems in the state, there is an increased population of economically disadvantaged students.  The majority of reading improvement was made in high-poverty systems that are already facing the setbacks of underfunding.

The school system with the highest number of third-graders below reading level was the state’s largest school system, Mobile County. There, 13 percent of students were below grade level for a total of 476 students.



Mary Claire is a reporting intern.

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