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Alabama students performing ‘remarkably better’ on reading proficiency, new report shows

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The percentage of Alabama second and third graders reading on or above grade level climbed by eight percentage points this year when compared to 2023, according to new school-level data from the Alabama State Department of Education.

The latest reading proficiency data came just ahead of a key deadline at the end of the school year, where, due to the 2019 Literacy Act, students not reading at or above grade level at the end of third grade could be held back.

“It doesn’t matter how you slice it, our students are doing remarkably better from year to year,” said State Superintendent Eric Mackey on Thursday as he revealed details on the new data during a state board of education meeting.

“We were all shocked by the growth.”

For the current school year, 91% of second or third grade students were reading on or above grade level, compared to 83% in 2023, itself an improvement of 2022 where 78% of students were reading on or above grade level. In 2021, 77% of students read on or above grade level.

Of the close to 1,700 individual schools, just eight had less than 50% of students reading at or above grade level. 

Roughly 47% of schools had at least 90% of students reading at or above grade level, and roughly 9% had less than 70% reading at or above grade level. A total of 57 schools had 100% of their students reading at or above grade level.

For third graders, 4,808 were reading below grade level, and 48,684 were reading at or above, leaving nearly 5,000 students at risk of being held back.

Students considered to be reading on or above grade level this school year were required to achieve a minimum score of 435 on the Alabama Comprehensive Assessment Program test, or ACAP. Mackey said that the cut score had been developed by two independent technical advisory committees and a separate group of teachers.

Alabama State Superintendent Eric Mackey explains the multiple cut scores adopted to measure reading proficiency during a June 14 meeting of the State Board of Education at the Gordon Persons Building in Montgomery.

Those three groups also developed two additional cut scores, 454 and 473, which help the department improve statistical precision around any test score, precision that Mackey said was crucial to have given that scores determined whether or not a third grader is retained.

“With (the 454) cut score, we are 68% sure that we chose the right kids, which means we’re 32% unsure whether these kids are the low-grade level or not,” Mackey said. “Well, that’s a big percentage, to be 32% unsure, the first year to tell moms and dads we’re going to retain kids. That’s why they start out here.”

The additional scores, which are not required to be reached to advance to the fourth grade, are based on statistical data that suggests students who take the ACAP a second time are 95% likely to score within a range of two conditional errors of measurement, a range known as a confidence interval.

“The first year we retain kids, to me it’s important that we have 95% confidence that we’ve got the right number,” Mackey said.

Students who score below the minimum score of 435 are invited to attend summer reading camp where they will have the opportunity to retake the test. 

Mackey expressed concerns, however, that not all students will take that opportunity given that in 2023, only “about half” of students notified that they were reading below grade level accepted the invitation to attend a summer reading camp.

“We’re going to double down on reading and math, we’ve got to really focus on summer reading camps,” Mackey said. “Are students participating? One of our big issues is that students aren’t coming.”

He did add that due to the retention component of the Literacy Act kicking in this year, however, he had reason to be more optimistic that more students and their parents would respond to the invitation to attend a summer reading camp.

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