The Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) recently lowered the third-grade reading score required to pass students to the fourth grade.

The Alabama Literacy Act was passed in 2019, immediately creating statewide controversy. One of the most contentious aspects of the legislation is in the so-called retention portion of the law, which requires a third grader to read at a third-grade level before being promoted to the fourth grade. In several cases, there are exceptions to the rule and other methods for students to progress without being held back for an entire school year.

For two straight legislative sessions, lawmakers debated the possibility of delaying the retention portion of the Literacy Act, which was slated to start in the 2022-2023 school year.

In the 2021 Alabama regular legislative session, the legislature passed legislation to postpone the final implementation of the Alabama Literacy Act to give school systems and thousands of third-graders more time. Ivey vetoed that legislation. However, the legislature delayed the retention requirements until the 2023-2024 school year in 2022.

On Thursday, ALSDE lowered the reading scores third-graders must pass to proceed to the next grade by a 5-3 vote. The new testing would lower the minimum passing score by two standard errors below what is generally considered grade-level reading.

State Superintendent Eric Mackey said on Thursday that Gov. Kay Ivey supported the change. He also said the passing score would likely be reevaluated in a year.

In a recent appearance on Huntsville WVNN's "The Dale Jackson Show," State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) said he hopes the change reflected the ALSDE Board's vote desire to do "what's best for the kids and not the adults in the system."

"I do hope the state board will fair out the truth and what needs to be done, and not just be reducing standards for the sake passing more kids on to the fourth grade, which is certainly a travesty if that happens," Orr said. "Because we know the statistics."

"If you cannot read by the end of the third grade, the odds are that you will never learn to adequately read and you will spin off into adulthood being functionally illiterate, which is an extreme challenge for you when it comes to your future employment capabilities and what you will earn the rest of your life," he added. "And it all goes back to these early grade reading classes that are so vitally important for the future of our children."

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