12K third graders at risk of being held back under Alabama Literacy Act, superintendent warns

Alabama's state school superintendent said as many as 12,000 third graders are at risk of being held back due to reading scores.
Published: Sep. 14, 2023 at 3:17 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 14, 2023 at 10:19 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Upwards of 12,000 Alabama third graders may not meet the required reading scores to move onto the next grade level this year, according to Alabama State Schools Superintendent Eric Mackey.

Mackey put the number at between 10,000 and 12,000 Thursday before Alabama State Department of Education board members set the score students will have to meet under the Alabama Literacy Act to move up. The law, passed in 2019, went into effect with the 2023-24 school year.

Mackey warned that the state’s public schools need to prepare now for a larger third-grade class next school year because of the number of students who are expected to be held back.

“Principals have got to know they’re gonna have more students in third grade than they’re used to,” Mackey explained, “That might be moving some teachers from, say, a fourth grade classroom to third grade. It might mean that they have to, in some cases, reorganize a whole school district.”

The superintendent said that those students who don’t meet the score, meaning they’re not reading at third-grade proficiency, would have the opportunity to attend summer programming to advance.

The news should get the attention of not just the school systems, but parents.

“I think it’s time to take action and send a clear message to parents that we’re not going to dilly dally around and talk about whether we are going to set a cut score or whether we are going to retain kids,” Mackey explained. “No, this is real that the end of this year, thousands of students are in jeopardy of not hitting the cut score, the board has now set that score.”

There was debate among board members about the cut score Thursday. Some felt it should be higher while one noted that statistics show students who can’t read but are still promoted to the fourth grade are four times more likely to drop out of school.

Currently, the score that will see a student make the cut stands at 435, and Mackey expects the board will raise the score next year.

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