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Mark Dixon: The Alabama Literacy Act is Good for Children

By MARK DIXON, President, A+ Education Partnership

Last week, the Alabama House of Representatives voted 92-3 to pass the Alabama Literacy Act (HB 388) with bipartisan support. The Senate will consider HB 388 bill this week.

Every child deserves the opportunity and support to become an excellent reader. As a result, we support the core tenets of this bill:

  • Renewed focus on pre-k to third grade reading
  • Targeted funding and resources to improve reading instruction
  • Stronger teacher preparation in college to ensure new teachers are prepared for science-based reading instruction
  • Early identification and additional support for students with dyslexia and other specific needs

The bottom line is that children who cannot read on grade level by the fourth grade are unlikely to graduate.

Nationally, 13 other states have adopted similar laws requiring students to read on grade level in order to be promoted to fourth grade, and there is sufficient data to show this approach works.

North Carolina passed a similar law in 2012. Since implementing the law, their ranking for fourth grade reading scores on the National Assessment for Education Progress (NAEP) rose from 24th in the nation in 2011 to 19th in 2017. The results have been similar in Mississippi, which now ranks second in the nation in reading gains, since it passed its Literacy Based Promotions Act in 2013.

During that same timeframe, Alabama’s ranking dropped from 32nd in 2011 to 39th in 2017.

While some are understandably concerned about retaining students, promoting an unprepared child to fourth grade does not solve the underlying issue. This sets up students to continue falling further behind in reading and other subjects, like math, which requires more word problems as students advance. “Social promotion” has too often caused struggling students to be “passed up the chain,” ultimately graduating without the fundamental skill they need in the real world: literacy. Reading is the key to all other learning. Providing students with the resources and instruction they need in the early years ensures that every child has the foundational skills they need to succeed in school and life.

Moreover, a recent Harvard study of students retained in third grade under a similar Florida law performed better than their peers in middle school, had higher GPAs in high school, and took fewer remedial courses.

Finally, there are “good cause” exemptions in the bill to give educators discretion to make the right decision for students who may have disabilities or be English language learners. The bill would not let students be retained more than once, and parents have to be involved and kept informed throughout the process. (These exemptions can be read in full on pages 20 and 21 of House Bill 388 found here.)

Alabama made great progress in reading in the past when we were  laser-focused on improving reading outcomes for students. A+ has been and remains a long-time supporter of the Alabama Reading Initiative (ARI), which provided a solid foundation for driving improvements in reading instruction. Thanks to ARI, Alabama set a NAEP record for the fastest single increase by a state in reading gains from 2005 to 2007.

Alabama now has an opportunity to create similar improvements for today’s students. The Alabama Literacy Act (HB 388) is a first step to getting us there.

Click here to contact your State Senator to support HB 388.

Mark Dixon is President of A+ Education Partnership. 

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