The Alabama House of Representatives will consider controversial legislation postponing the enforcement of a provision of the 2019 Alabama Literacy Act. Otherwise, third-graders who fail to show proficiency in reading on standardized testing in the coming weeks will spend next year repeating the third grade.

This is to be the first class of third-graders held back for their unsatisfactory academic performance. However, the legislature is considering giving the students a reprieve because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the long periods of remote instruction that occurred during school shutdowns in 2020 and beyond.

Senate Bill 200 (SB200) is sponsored by State Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham).

SB200 would postpone implementation of the third-grade retention requirement until the 2024/2025 school year. Those children are currently in kindergarten.

The bill additionally orders that:

  • Local education agencies offer a comprehensive core reading program to develop foundational reading skills, including instructional time;

  • Reading intervention programs are available to address reading deficiencies or dyslexia;

  • Students are evaluated every grading period and provided with additional support if reading deficiency is determined;

  • The State Superintendent provide a list of vetted reading and intervention programs that will be offered in addition to reading instruction provided to every classroom; and

  • Dyslexia-specific intervention be provided when needed.

The bill requires that the ordered reading intervention program:

  • Provide clear instruction in language development, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension;

  • Provide small group reading intervention based on student need; and 

  • Occur during school hours.

If a child “exhibits a consistent deficiency in” a number of listed areas, he or she “shall be notified in writing no later than 15 school days after the identification.” The school will then be required to prepare a “reading improvement plan” with “the teacher, principal, other pertinent school personnel, and the parent or legal guardian.”

Every local school district is required to provide summer reading camps to all K-3 students identified with a reading deficiency. The summer reading camps “shall be staffed with highly effective teachers of reading as demonstrated by student reading performance data, completion of multisensory structured language education, and teacher performance evaluations.”

Additionally, the legislation creates “The Alabama Summer Achievement Program” for all K-3 students in public elementary schools that are among the lowest-performing five percent of elementary schools. Funds will be awarded to each local education agency based on the number of deficient students determined in state reading assessments. The program will provide reading-deficient third-graders with an intensified reading intervention program. They can be promoted to fourth grade using a good cause exemption but will continue to receive reading support during the school year.

“Students identified as English language learners who have had less than two years of instruction in English as a second language” are exempted from the requirement that they repeat third grade, as are students in special education.

“No student shall be retained more than twice in kindergarten through third grade," the bill states.

The bill requires that every school shall provide “an intensive acceleration for any student retained in third grade”.

Every local board of education is required to submit a report to the state school superintendent on or before Sept. 30 that details by grade the number and percentage of all K-3 students with a reading deficiency, including dyslexia characteristics, and those performing on grade level, details of reading intervention programs, records of Alabama Summer Achievement Programs, and information on teachers who receive additional training in reading support, among other details. The legislation requires the State Superintendent to submit a report based on this information annually, along with reading growth and proficiency targets. 

There is a broad consensus in the legislature that the repeat third grade mandate for low performers should be postponed, but there is disagreement between legislators on whether that should be for three years or less. 1819 News was told that 22% of all third graders would have been held back last year had this requirement been in place. Some 38% of Alabama third graders cannot read at a third-grade level, but 16% are exempt because they are in special education, are English as a second language students, or have some other exemption under the Alabama Literacy Act.

A similar bill passed the legislature last year but was vetoed by Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R).

Tuesday will be day 27 of the Alabama 2022 Regular Legislative Session. All of the bills on Tuesday’s House special order calendar are Senate bills due to there being a maximum of four legislative days left in this year’s regular session.

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