Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said Wednesday that she will ask lawmakers to delay a requirement to hold back third-graders who don’t meet reading benchmarks but said the state must strengthen efforts to boost math and reading scores.
The Republican governor recommended a one-year delay of the promotion policy scheduled to take effect at the end of this school year. Ivey made the announcement at a state Board of Education meeting as board members approved a minimum test score for the promotion requirement that nearly one in four third-graders did not meet last year.
Board members approved a cutoff reading score of 452 on the Alabama Comprehensive Assessment Program. State officials said 23% of students scored below that number on the latest assessment. However, Alabama Superintendent of Education Eric Mackey said his department estimates the percentage of students actually retained would be about half that because spring scores are expected to improve and students can demonstrate reading skills through a portfolio.
Mackey said he supports the delay because the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the past two school years.
“I just feel like with the impact of the pandemic that we need to give our teachers and our students and our families a little breathing room,” Mackey said.
The governor said policymakers need more data, particularly upcoming test scores, before implementing the promotion requirement. It will be up to the Alabama Legislature to change the law and implement the delay.
“Because we are implementing a new assessment, we need the spring 2022 data to further validate the ‘cut score’ before we implement the promotion policy. In the meantime, we will be doubling down on providing the support needed to implement the Alabama Literacy Act,” Ivey said.
In 2019, Alabama lawmakers approved several initiatives to try to boost reading scores. Beginning in the 2021-22 school year, third graders would be required to meet reading benchmarks before moving to the fourth grade. Students would have to make a minimum score on a reading assessment or demonstrate mastery of all third-grade state reading standards.
Mackey said the Department of Education estimates 12% of students would be retained this spring if the requirement goes forward.
“We think it would be closer to 12% actually retained, but we don’t know that for sure. We’ll see what the Legislature does about the delay,” Mackey said.
Mississippi saw 8% of third-graders fail a similar reading test requirement after it implemented a similar reading requirement.
Alabama lawmakers had already tried to delay the promotion requirement by two years, arguing it will be unfair to force the requirement on students who were out of the traditional classroom for long stretches during the pandemic. Ivey in May let the measure die by a pocket veto, saying it was too early to make that decision.
Republican Rep. Terri Collins, the sponsor of the 2019 Literacy Act, said she agrees with the governor’s recommendation for a delay of a single year. She said lawmakers originally thought they would have three years of test scores before the promotion requirement took effect but the pandemic disrupted that.
Collins said the state should move forward with the requirement next school year.
“The goal is that every child can read on level before we move them to fourth grade, where they are expected to read to learn,” Collins said.