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2-year Literacy Act delay bill approved in Senate committee

By HEATHER GANN, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A bill that would postpone for two years the reading requirement benchmark for third grade students established by the Alabama Literacy Act was advanced Wednesday by the Senate Education Policy Committee.

As amended, Senate Bill 200 from Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, would postpone until the 2023-2024 school year implementation of the requirement that third graders who aren’t proficient in reading be held back from moving on to fourth grade.

In committee on Wednesday, Smitherman said when lawmakers approved the Literacy Act in 2019 and set the 2021-22 retention deadline, they couldn’t take into account COVID-19-caused learning disruptions. If the date isn’t changed, children will be “scapegoats” of the pandemic, Smitherman said.

Some committee members raised concerns about advancing students who struggle to read to the fourth grade, saying that’s a disservice to them.

Smitherman last year successfully got through the Legislature a bill delaying the holdback requirement by two years. Gov. Kay Ivey vetoed it. Now, Ivey is advocating for a one-year delay in House Bill 220, sponsored by Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur.

Collins sponsored the 2019 law aimed at improving young students’ reading abilities. It includes requirements and funding for enhanced teacher training, student screenings and additional help for struggling readers, including summer programs. But the accountability portion of the law requires students to read proficiently before being promoted to fourth grade.

Smitherman’s bill passed in an 8-2 vote. It now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

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