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Thousands of Alabama 3rd graders could be held back under reading law

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Alabama's school chief says 10,000 or more third graders could be held back this summer as the state begins requiring kids to meet reading benchmarks to move to fourth grade. The requirement takes effect this school year. State lawmakers delayed implementation to give students and schools time to recover from pandemic-related learning losses. The state Board of Education on Thursday approved the score that more than 50,000 students will need to reach to advance to fourth grade. State Superintendent Eric Mackey says board members needed to set a new score because the state changed its reading test to align with the latest standards.

"This is the year that will happen with these current third-graders," Superintendent Eric Mackey said Thursday as the Alabama State Board of Education approved the score that more than 50,000 students will need to reach to advance to fourth grade.

Lawmakers in 2019 approved the Alabama Literacy Act that will require third graders to meet reading benchmarks before moving to the fourth grade. Students must make a minimum score on the state's standardized reading assessment or otherwise demonstrate mastery of all third grade state reading standards through a portfolio.

Governor Kay Ivey said in August that she opposed any further delay of the retention provision.

Mackey said board members needed to set a new score on the Alabama Comprehensive Assessment Program because the state changed its reading test to align with the latest standards.

Mackey said it is difficult to estimate how many students would be retained under that score, but he estimated between 10,000 and 12,000.

That doesn't mean they would all be required to repeat third grade, because some of them would go to summer school and take the test again, Mackey said. Others would be promoted through a reading portfolio assessment, he said.

Three board members voted against setting the score at the level Mackey recommended, saying they believed it was too low.

"We're doing a great disservice if we set the bar too low," board member Stephanie Bell said.

The board is likely to consider resetting the score next year.

The law requires teachers to be retrained in reading instruction, periodic reading testing in kindergarten through third grade, reading coaches to help teachers with their instructional practices and summer reading camps to help get struggling readers up to speed.

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