CCSD holds breath as the Literacy Act goes into effect

Published 10:15 am Friday, April 19, 2024

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VALLEY — The Alabama Literacy Act was approved by the Alabama Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey in 2019. Its goal was to see that students in the state’s public schools were reading on grade level by the end of the third grade. The law has been gradually implemented over the past five years and will be fully effective by the end of the current school year.

“We will be feeling its effects this year,” said Dr. Sheila Jones, K-8 director of curriculum and instruction for the Chambers County School District. “You will be hearing a lot about this on the news by the middle of May.”

Dr. Jones discussed this law and its coming impact at Wednesday’s noon-hour meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Valley.

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What it means is that students who are now in the third grade must be on grade level by the end of the current school year to be promoted to the fourth grade. Those who don’t make it will have the option of going to a summer camp to get caught up. Alabama also has a numeric act to see that students are on grade level in math by the end of their fifth-grade year.

This year’s third graders are the first ones the Literacy Act affects. 

“We will be watching what the retention rate will be,” Jones said. “Every elementary school in our system will have a summer camp where the students will have another chance to pass the test. I’m hoping we won’t have a bunch of kids who will be affected.”

For years Alabama has ranked near the bottom in terms of reading and math skills. It’s widely viewed that students should be well on their way to mastering these skills by the end of the third grade. 

“Studies have shown that students are four times as likely to not graduate on time if they are not on grade level by then,” Jones said. “It’s an indicator of coming dropout levels.”

Testing is not always a good indicator of a student’s proficiency in reading or math. Some students don’t score well on standardized tests. This kind of testing may be a false indicator of their actual skills. There’s a system in place that will keep some of these students from being held back. It involves mastering six of nine standards. “You have to have a record of it and proof of it,” said Jones. “If you pass it you can go on to the fourth grade. It’s a way of saying that if you are proficient but don’t test well you can go on to the next grade.”

The 2019 law does exempt some migrant students whose families do not speak English at home. They have to have been here for three school years before it counts against them.

A problem with standardized testing, Jones said, is that some students haven’t been exposed to what they are being tested on. The student, for example, may be asked to draw a line to a sub or a cub, the sub being a submarine and a cub being a baby bear. They may have never seen a bear before or may think of a sub being a sandwich.

Dr.  Jones said that parents can be most helpful in their child’s learning in the home setting. 

“Your attitude toward reading, writing and math has a big influence on them,” she said. “Let them see you reading and writing. Squeeze math into your home or kitchen, outside, and when you are measuring something. Don’t complain. Give them a thank you note when they have done something good. Ask them to help you with the grocery list.”

“Ask them about their day,” she added. “What do you notice while walking or during outside time?”

Having art projects with the children can be helpful. 

“Have crayons or paint for them to draw letters,” she said. “Ask what sound that letter makes. Look for ways to relate what you are doing to letters, words and numbers. Play word games, count objects and ask which is larger or smaller.”

Jones advises parents to listen to audiobooks with their kids and to later ask them what happened in the story. “Ask about the lyrics of a song and what the song means,” she said. “Ask them how they think the singer feels. Are they happy or sad? Let them come up with the words to describe it.”

Family time is an ideal time to help with your child’s education. 

“Read together or at the same time,” Jones said. “Have a math problem for them to solve.”

Students who are retained at the end of the third grade will receive more intensive reading intervention services including:

  • summer reading camps in the local elementary schools;
  • before or after school intervention tutoring throughout the year to support learning;
  • reading instruction that is grounded in the science of reading;
  • frequent monitoring to help ensure that students are progressing and on track to meet grade-level reading standards, and
  • provide families a Read-at-Home Plan.

The new law requires for families to be updated on their child’s progress. Each student from kindergarten through the third grade will have his or her reading assessed at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of the current school year. These assessments will identify students who need intensive reading instruction and intervention. Such assessments also provide useful information for the teacher to help tailor instruction to meet individual student needs. Families should receive these results in writing within a designated time frame.