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Ledbetter, Mackey agree: No more Literacy Act delays

Speaker of the House Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, and State Superintendent Eric Mackey say the Alabama Literacy Act’s holdback requirement won’t be delayed again.

Echoing recent comments from Gov. Kay Ivey, Ledbetter and Mackey said on Capitol Journal last week the state must move forward with the law aimed at improving young learners’ reading abilities. 

“If we’re really going to improve literacy, we have to be able to say, ‘OK, you need more work,’” Ledbetter said. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”

He said passing third-graders who don’t have the needed reading skills is a disservice to them. 

Passed in 2019, the Literacy Act introduced an intensive statewide effort to improve reading proficiency in Alabama schools. It includes regular reading assessments for K-3 students, expert reading coaches deployed to priority schools and summer reading camps to help get struggling readers up to speed. Largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, lawmakers postponed one provision of the law – which would mandate that students who cannot read proficiently by the third grade be held back – until 2024. 

In a recent op-ed, Gov. Kay Ivey vowed to veto any further delay of the Alabama Literacy Act.

Recent data shows that had the holdback provision been in effect earlier this year, as many as 12,000 students could have been retained or required significant intervention efforts before advancing to fourth grade.

Mackey said he expects about 9,000 to 12,000 students could be held back at the end of the current school year. That’s similar to numbers in other states that have implemented similar laws.

“I think it’s time,” Mackey told Capitol Journal. “I think we certainly have to make sure students who are moving on to fourth grade are reading on grade level.” 

This summer was an active one for learning programs and the department is still collecting data on their impact, Mackey said.

“We offered more opportunities this year than we have in the past, but we see that in a lot of communities the uptake was actually down,” he said. “In many, many communities, they had fewer students participate in summer reading and math camps than in years past. Part of that could be because we also saw record numbers of people going on vacation. After a couple years of people not going on vacation, we heard from parents who were like, ‘Look, I’m taking my kids on vacation this summer.’ So we’ve had that struggle, we knew that was something we’d always struggle with because in those intensive summer reading and math camps we need those students, especially students who are maybe on the edge or who are behind their peers or are not on grade level, we need them in that summer enrichment program.”

He expects more data on participation and achievement in October.

Mackey last month toured several schools as they began their 2023-2024 year.

“There is definitely a feeling of optimism and revitalization that was kind of missing the last few years since COVID,” he said.

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