Bill would keep 3rd graders with low reading skills from moving to 4th grade

Updated: Apr. 15, 2019 at 2:32 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - There is proposed legislation to keep third graders from moving to the next grade level, so they can work on their reading skills. The bill aims to improve reading proficiency for K-3 children, but it is facing some push back.

Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, and Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, sponsor the bill.

“Multiple studies have shown that students who read at or above grade level by the third grade are more likely to maintain progress, perform better, and graduate than students who did not,” the legislators said in a statement.

It would create a task force to measure reading proficiency and implement a mandatory reading intervention program for those not reading at grade level. The Office of Success would be created within the Alabama State Department of Education to oversee the initiative.

School Superintendents Of Alabama Executive Director Ryan Hollingsworth had not read the recent bill version, but he said he is concerned about holding students back from the third grade based on a spring assessment.

“There’s such a stigma put on a child when you repeat,” He said. “All your classmates, your friends, they’re moving on and you’re staying behind. So to be associated now with a whole new set of friends, that’s tough socially.”

Hollingsworth said if students are held back a school grade, they are 50 percent less likely to graduate. He believes the initiative is created with good intentions and understands it is difficult to balance between making sure a student is reading at grade level and not holding them back.

The Alabama Association of School Boards does not believe this should be a mandatory decision by the state. They said it takes away local control from the teachers and principals.

“We welcome the attention and the focus on the importance of early literacy. We agree on the spirit of the bill," said Dana Vandiver, Director of Public Relations with the Alabama Association of School Boards.

Vandiver suggested putting additional reading coaches in targeted areas.

Alabama currently has a state-funded Reading Initiative program to put reading coaches in designated areas. Sen. Arthur Orr said the initiative would work with the current program to put more reading coaches in targeted areas.

“So the intervention would be targeted with the Alabama Reading Initiative to those areas and those students that show sub-par performance in those early grades,” Orr said.

He also said there is an appeal process for a third-grade student who did not perform well on their test.

“The hope would be we don’t allow the exceptions to consume the rule, because third grade reading is very, very important, that children be able to adequately read at grade level," Orr said.

This initiative would create a reading intervention program for students K-3. If teachers noticed their students were not at a proficient reading level, they would be required to notify the parents and create a reading improvement plan within 30 days of noticing a reading deficiency.

At this time there is not a fiscal note with how much money it will cost to implement the initiative.

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