State weighs pause in 3rd grade promotion reading test

Published 6:19 am Thursday, April 29, 2021

After COVID-19 disrupted two school years, Alabama lawmakers are weighing a pause in an upcoming state requirement for third-graders to pass a reading test before moving up to the fourth grade.

The House Education Policy Committee on Wednesday debated the Senate-passed bill by Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, that would delay the promotion requirement, now set to take effect next year, by two years. Chairwoman Terri Collins said the committee will vote next week.

Opponents argued it would be a disservice to students to delay the promotion requirement — a part of a broader state program to boost literacy— or that the state should wait until latest test scores are available to make a decision. Smitherman and others said it would be unfair to force the requirement on students who were out of the traditional classroom for long stretches during the pandemic.

“The children should not be punished because of what we have right now,” Smitherman told the committee. “That student who has not been able to get there, not been able to study, they are going to flunk.”

Lawmakers in both parties described the frustrations of parents and teachers in their districts as schools were closed.
Other lawmakers expressed concern about a delay, saying it does not help students to promote them if they are not reading on grade level.

“Pumping the brakes is not a good idea,” Rep. Alan Baker, R-Brewton, said.

Alabama lawmakers in 2019 approved a number of initiatives to try to boost reading scores. It included that beginning in the 2021-22 school year, third graders would be required to meet reading benchmarks before moving to the fourth grade. 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.