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Bill would require third graders to meet reading benchmarks

April 24, 2019

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama could become the next state to require third graders to pass a reading benchmark before moving to fourth grade, under a bill advanced by a legislative committee Wednesday.

The House Education Policy Committee approved the bill by Republican Rep. Terri Collins of Decatur that seeks to strengthen reading education in the early grades. The bill now moves to the House floor.

The bill mandates a number of initiatives to try to boost reading scores and beginning in 2021-22 would implement a high-stakes requirement for students to meet a reading benchmarks before moving to the fourth grade.

Collins described the proposal as taking the existing Alabama Reading Initiative and putting it “on steroids.”

“I believe if we promote a child who is not reading on grade level out of the third grade then we are failing that child,” Collins said.

The legislation is patterned after programs in Mississippi and Florida.

Students would have to make a minimum score on a reading assessment or demonstrate “mastery of all third grade state reading standards as evidenced by a student reading portfolio.” The Department of Education would help develop rules for the pass-fail requirement.

The bill called the Alabama Literacy Act spells out a number of initiatives, including requiring regional reading specialists to work with struggling students, requiring summer reading camps and new attempts to better identify and assist students with dyslexia. It would create a new office called the Office of Student Success within the Department of Education to oversee some of the measures.

The State Department of Education estimates that the proposals would cost approximately $90 million annually, according to a fiscal note on the bill by the Legislative Services Agency.

During a public hearing on the bill, one family described the struggle to obtain help for their daughter with dyslexia. They eventually turned to private therapy.

Mark Dixon, president of the A+ Education Partnership, expressed support for the bill.

“We have been a longtime advocate of the goal of this bill that every child deserves a chance to be an excellent reader,” Dixon said.

Some speakers expressed concern about both the price tag and the requirement to hold students back.

Jessica Sanders of the Alabama Department of Education said the department shares in the goal of the bill but had a few concerns such as the creation of a new state office. She said the department is already doing much of the work through the existing Alabama Reading Initiative.

“The retention piece and the Office of Student Success are just not needed to accomplish these goals. It is absolutely correct that the funding is,” Sanders said.

Collins said she was firm on keeping the third grade passage requirement, which “makes it work.”

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