The Alabama State Board of Education voted 5-3 last week to lower reading standards for 3rd graders.
The vote was a response to the implementation of the Alabama Literacy Act, passed in 2019, which required students to achieve a certain reading score prior to moving on two 4th grade. The latest vote lowered the required score “two standard errors below what’s considered grade-level reading,” reported local CBS 42.
State Superintendent Eric Mackey expects that even with the board’s change, thousands of students will still be held back.
“Probably around ten to eleven thousand, ten to eleven to twelve thousand, in the first round,” Mackey said. “But remember that does not mean they would all be retained, because some of them will go to summer school, some will take the test again, some would be promoted for good cause exemption, through the Individualized Education Program (IEP), some might be promoted through a portfolio assessment.”
But some boards members worried they could set the bar too low.
“I cannot vote for the practice of promoting nonproficient readers,” said member Jackie Zeigler.
“We’re doing a great disservice if we set the bar too low,” agreed Stephanie Bell.
Being a proficient reader by 4th grade has been shown to be a linchpin to future success in school.
“Kids who reach fourth grade without being able to read proficiently are more likely to struggle academically and eventually drop out of school,” reports the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “Low reading proficiency also can reduce earning potential and chances for career success as adults.”
According to the state’s 2022 NAEP scores, only 28% of Alabama’s 4th graders read at grade level, while 41% score at “below basic,” the lowest category.
Such statistics are sadly common. Forty-two states and the District of Columbia all experienced declines in reading scores in 2022.
The Alabama Literacy Act, which aims to improve the state’s reading scores, passed with near-unanimous votes through both the House and Senate in 2019.
Republican Gov. Kay Ivey supports the effort to hold back poor readers from 4th grade, but didn’t attend the Board of Education’s meeting.