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Rep. Collins: Alabama Literacy Act can improve Alabama’s NAEP scores

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

An education policy lawmaker believes that the new Alabama Literacy Act won’t only help with students’ reading proficiency but could also improve Alabama’s poor math scores, now ranked last in the nation.

“What I saw was the gains that Mississippi got on their reading and their math,” Rep. Terri Collins told Alabama Daily News said. “I’ve seen data that showed that by improving and using that science of reading that the Literacy Act calls for … that that actually helps them learn their math as well as their reading.”

Collins, R-Decatur, was the sponsor of the Literacy Act that was passed earlier this year. It’s modeled after a Mississippi law.

“I think we see evidence in Mississippi that it’s making a difference in the math as well,” Collins said. “I think we need to make sure we are doing our very best at training our math and science teachers and making sure they are where they need to be then we will see gains in those scores over the years.”

Alabama has dropped to the bottom in the nation when it comes to math, according to the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress scores released this week.

Collins said she’s disappointed, but hopes the ranking will continue to push more education improvements even faster.

“What I’m hoping is that those scores will create a sense of urgency in the (Alabama State Department of Education) and in our school systems to implement the Literacy Act and the things we have seen from neighboring states that are truly improving their scores,” Collins said.

The state’s math ranking fell from 2017 when Alabama’s fourth-graders were ranked 47th and eighth-graders were ranked 50th. This year both groups finished last out of 50 states, Washington, DC and the Department of Defense.

For reading, Alabama’s score also fell significantly, dropping five points for fourth-graders, and four points for eighth-graders.

The main objective of the Alabama Literacy Act is to improve reading proficiency across the state.  It provides regional literacy specialists to the lowest-performing 5% schools in the state, as well as providing summer reading camps to all K-3 students identified with a reading deficiency, and holding back any third grader who isn’t reading on grade level. It goes into effect in the 2021-2022 school year.

Mississippi scored a whole 11 points more than Alabama for fourth-grade math and is now tied with the national average for fourth-grade reading. The state is still below the national average for eighth-grade math and reading.

State Superintendent Eric Mackey said in an emailed statement that he was not surprised by the NAEP scores and that they don’t necessarily reflect how well Alabama students are doing.

While all states are getting better over time in these categories, Alabama struggles to make as big of gains as others.

“As I have been saying, Alabama needs long-term, systemic, and strategic investment to make sure that our teachers have access to the best research, resources, assessments, and teaching strategies,” Mackey said. “Investment like those made by the Legislature this past session in literacy, assessments and our new student data system are the right steps for this kind of improvement.”

To help with the problems in math that the state is seeing specifically, Mackey also mentioned the Alabama Math Course of Study committee that has been working to come up with a conceptual framework for teaching math.

During October’s state school board meeting, the committee explained its new math course of study would realign content areas and update standards.

“We are excited about the upcoming, improved mathematics course of study that Alabama teachers have been working diligently to complete,” Mackey said. “I think there is growing understanding that we must move early math to the front burner and make it a state priority like it has never been before.”

Collins said she’s also had conversations with various colleges of education at Alabama universities about implementing classes on the science of reading and she continues to encourage teachers to seek professional development in reading.

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