House Education Policy Committee chairwoman State Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur) is all-in on the recent adjustment to third-grade reading tests for Alabama students.

Last week, by a 5-3 vote, the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) lowered the third-grade reading score required to pass students to the fourth grade. The new testing would lower the cut score by two standard errors below what is generally considered grade-level reading.

According to Collins, the change was necessary after the state changed the reading portion of the Alabama Comprehensive Assessment Program (ACAP) test.

"They had to change the cut score because the test changed," Collins said. "We made some changes and included some details that were very important to literacy, so the test is harder. So they made some changes that made it sort of level. They used two standard measures of error. In their mind, I think it was to make sure that anyone that was held back was not reading at an appropriate level."

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The Alabama Literacy Act was passed in 2019, which contained a so-called retention portion requiring a third grader to read at a third-grade level before being promoted to the fourth grade. After a legislative delay, the retention portion went into effect for the 2023-2024 school year.

State Education Superintendent Eric Mackey said the number of held-back third graders could be as high as 10,000 as the Literacy Act takes effect.

Collins pointed to Mississippi, whose literacy initiatives she believes prove that holding third-graders back for failing test scores yields better outcomes than passing students who can't read at an appropriate level.

"Those children, the percentage of those who were retained and repeated third grade, compared to those who were promoted but just above the cut score, by sixth grade, they were over 20% ahead," Collins said.

She continued, "Here is what I would encourage families: if your child is close to the cut score and even just above it, I would encourage summer school so they get that extra measure of reading education before going into the fourth grade."

Despite the suspected increase of held-back third graders, Collins is confident in the data that holding children back a grade pays dividends for their future education and personal success.

"There are still four more chances for those kids that don't make the cut score to be promoted," she concluded. "There's another chance for a test. There's summer school and another test. There's a portfolio: if those kids just aren't testing well, but the teachers have evidence they're reading well, that can make a difference. And lastly, there are exemptions. If they are in an [Individualized Education Program] plan, if they've been held back more than once and they can't be held back more than once in third grade, so there are three exceptions. So, the actual numbers being held back will be more than we've been having, but I don't think it will be a dramatic amount."

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