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Literacy Act delay bill running out of time

By Mary Sell, Alabama Daily News

A bill to delay next year’s requirement to hold back third grade students who aren’t proficient in reading is running out of time in the Legislature.

The Senate-passed measure was discussed for more than an hour in a public hearing on Wednesday in the House Education Policy Committee. Committee chair Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, opted not to vote on the bill and said the committee may take it up Tuesday. If approved there, it would need a House vote during the two remaining legislative days of this session.

Sponsor Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, said the pandemic has greatly altered education delivery in the state to the disadvantage of students and the holdback requirement, part of the 2019 Literacy Act, should be delayed two years. Otherwise, too many students will be held back.

“It’s plain and simple, I’m just asking you to give the kids more time…” he told the committee.

Opponents, including Collins, a sponsor of the original Literacy Act, argue that more data is needed before any changes are made. Because the holdback doesn’t take effect until the end of the 2021-2022 school year, lawmakers could act early in their 2022 session if needed. They also argued that advancing students who struggle to read is a disservice to them.

“It’s not a punishment to delay a student to make sure they can read and be successful,” Rep. Brett Easterbook, R-Fruitdale, said.

According to information from the Alabama Department of Education, an assessment earlier this year of a sampling of students showed 22% of them would need “intensive intervention” in reading.

Ryan Hollingsworth, executive director of School Superintendents of Alabama, said when the act was passed, schools had three “normal” years to prepare.

“The last two years have been anything but normal,” he said.

At least two Republicans on the committee spoke in favor of Smitherman’s bill. It passed the Senate with GOP support earlier this month.

Both sides on Wednesday agreed that other aspects of the Literacy Act, including summer programs for struggling readers, need to continue on pace.

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