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Op-Ed: Alabama Needs All the Tools to Ensure Our Youngest Students Can Read

By Kymyona Burk, Foundation for Education Excellence

Right now, thousands of students in Alabama are silently losing the chance for future achievement in school and later employment and in life. 

This is because all paths to success begin with being able to read at grade level.  According to the Nation’s Report Card, 78% of Alabama’s 4th graders are reading below proficient and advanced levels, which means they may be struggling to learn.

On top of that, educators and parents are just now discovering the impact of a pandemic-disrupted year on their child’s learning progress.

Now, more than ever, we must commit to ensuring that students are reading on grade level by the end of third grade. A critical part of that support is ensuring students move on to fourth grade when ready with the skills they need. Senate Bill 94 would fail students by removing an important last resort measure that ensures a child is better prepared for the rigors of classwork.  

The purpose of that measure—early literacy promotion policy—is for students to be ready, not retained. 

The Alabama Literacy Act, which was passed in 2019, contains all of the necessary supports to improve reading achievement across the state: 

  • Teacher training and preparation programs that include scientifically proven methods in reading instruction; 
  • Early identification of students with reading difficulties;  
  • Comprehensive reading interventions for struggling K-3 readers; and
  • Targeted retention as a last resort to provide struggling students with the additional time and specialized instruction they need to catch up and succeed in fourth grade and beyond.  

Too often, the retention component of successful comprehensive early literacy policies – like those in Florida, Mississippi and North Carolina – become the public focus while the robust prevention and early intervention components are ignored. Yet all of these elements must be in place to ensure all students have strong, foundational literacy skills that put them on the path to success in school and in life. 

What’s more,  data show that comprehensive early literacy policy in states like Florida and neighboring Mississippi is working. So much so, that other states are following suit. Just months ago, Tennessee adopted a comprehensive early literacy policy similar to Alabama’s current law that includes early intervention, tutoring and teacher preparation. 

Alabama’s reading policy has the right ingredients to help students. The reforms are challenging, but not as challenging as the future faced by student who cannot read.

Kymyona Burk, Ed.D, is Policy Director for Early Literacy at ExcelinEd. For more information on the importance of early literacy, visit the ExcelinEd policy library.


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