Alabama School Board lowers reading score third graders must achieve to advance to fourth grade

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WHNT) — The Alabama State Board of Education voted Thursday to lower the reading score that third graders must achieve to advance to fourth grade.

This decision is part of the implementation of the literacy law passed in 2019.

Starting this school year, the literacy law requires third graders to meet a certain reading score on a statewide test — Alabama’s Comprehensive Assessment Program — in order to to be able to move on to fourth year.

On Thursday, board members voted 5-3 to lower that score two standard errors below what is considered grade-level reading.

“It’s a typical thing that all test administrators do,” State Superintendent Eric Mackey said.

Mackey said the score change comes as the state adopts a new, more difficult test while complying with the Literacy Act’s withholding requirement.

“It’s unfortunate that we have to have this complex and very difficult discussion at the very time we are implementing retention,” Mackey said.

Mackey said the lower score provides 90 percent assurance that the state is actually capturing students who are below grade level.

The three board members who voted against the lower grade said it would lower the bar and ultimately hurt students who are making progress but can’t read well enough.

“We do a great disservice if we set the bar too low,” said board member Stephanie Bell.

Board member Jackie Zeigler agreed.

“I cannot vote for the practice of promoting non-competent readers,” Zeigler said.

Mackey estimates that with the new score, about 10,000 to 12,000 students will not be retained. After taking into account the exceptions in place and other ways students can still advance to fourth grade, Mackey said several thousand students would still be held back next year.

“Principals need to know that they will have more students in third grade than they are used to,” Mackey said. “This could involve moving teachers from, say, a 4th class class 3rd grade. This could mean they will have to, in some cases, reorganize an entire school district.

Gov. Kay Ivey was not at the meeting, but Mackey said she supports the change.

The Council will review the score in summer 2024.


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