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Ivey recommends a one-year delay on holding back of third grade readers

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday recommended a one-year delay to the Alabama Literacy Act’s holdback provision for third graders struggling with reading.

“Because we are implementing a new assessment, we need the spring 2022 data to further validate the cut score before we implement the promotion policy and in the meantime we will be doubling down for the supports needed to implement the Alabama Literacy Act to fidelity,” Ivey said at the state school board meeting.

The board voted on setting the reading score on standardized testing that will determine which students would continue on to the fourth grade. In order to implement Ivey’s recommended delay, the Alabama Legislature will have to approve the change during its regular session starting in January.

Rep. Terri Collins, who originally sponsored the 2019 Literacy Act that focuses attention and resources on early reading, told Alabama Daily News Wednesday that she is also now supportive of the delay.

“We’re moving in the right direction, but I think one more year will make a big difference,” Collins said. “It will make a difference in clarity of how we’re implementing similarly across systems, it’ll make a difference for teachers getting one more year of professional development and impact students for that.”

The “cut score” is the lowest reading score a third grader can earn on reading tests in order to advance to the fourth grade. It is based on a complex tiered grading system developed to see which students are reading proficiently.

This score was recommended by State Superintendent Eric Mackey and the state’s technical advisory committee for testing.

There are multiple actions students can take to avoid being held back, including attending mandatory summer reading programs. They will have the chance to test again to see if they can continue on to the fourth grade.

If the hold back provision is not delayed, third graders would be retained at the end of the current school year based on spring testing. According to a Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama analysis of recent testing scores, about 12,000 students could potentially be held back next spring because they can’t read at grade level.

Mackey said he was supportive of the delay and other education professionals have said that more consistent and accurate student testing data is needed to make sure that the cut score is adequate.

Due to the learning disruptions caused by COVID-19 over the past two school years and the fact that no standardized testing was done in the spring of 2020, some education leaders were cautious when setting the reading cut score.

“When we passed the Literacy Act, we fully anticipated that there would be three years of testing data, which would show trending and because of 2020, we don’t have that,” Collins said. “So having a one-year delay so we can get those three years of testing data but also adding valuable strategic measures that will help all systems be more successful, I think is critical if we’re going to open up the Literacy Act.”

Ivey earlier this year vetoed a bill to delay the holdback provision by two years, saying that the state first needs to see testing data from the 2020-2021 school year. But this year’s spring testing results showed an overall disappointing outlook on reading progress.

If the hold back provision does get delayed, that does not mean that testing or implementation of the Literacy Act’s other provisions like summer reading camps and professional development for teachers will stop. To the contrary, Mark Dixon of the A+ Education Partnership said the data shows the state needs to invest even more in literacy efforts.

“We think after a review of the data, a one-year delay is appropriate, but we completely agree with the governor, we need to double down on implementation and that means more funding, and more supports for teachers and students to continue implementation,” Dixon told ADN.

Collins also said she hopes to see standards increase in the coming years.

“While I think it is a good and reasonable cut score to start out with, and as I’ve told the school board members I’ve spoken to, I hope this is something we will continue to lift so we continue to improve,” Collins said.

Ivey also mentioned that the state needs to work on improving students’ mathematics education.

“Literacy and numeracy are both essential to students’ success,” Ivey said. “In the weeks and months ahead I look forward to placing the same sense of urgency on mathematics as we have rightfully placed on reading.”

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, has already said that he plans on introducing legislation that will get students math proficient by the time they leave the fifth grade.

“The bill will require significant commitment by the state and the education community, but as I see it, we have no other option,” Orr told ADN. “We have to do better.”

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