By Matt Bryant 

Nearly 5,000 Alabama third graders are at risk of being held back a year because they are not reading well enough, according to preliminary data released by state education officials. State Superintendent Eric Mackey said 9% of the state’s 49,000 third graders — about 4,800 — scored below grade level this spring. That’s an improvement from 17% of third graders reading below grade level last year.
In the last weeks of the school year and over the summer, students who are reading below grade level will need to improve, possibly by attending a summer reading camp, in order to advance to fourth grade.
“These are students that were affected by COVID during kindergarten,” Mackey said, “and it’s been a rough go for them in many cases. But we’re seeing that in the third grade, for the most part, they are back on track and doing really well.”
“It doesn’t mean that the 4,800 [third graders] will be retained,” he said of those who are still struggling to hit benchmarks, “but there are 4,800 that will be considered for retention.”
They are supposed to quickly notify parents of third graders who aren’t reading on grade level of their options. All school districts must offer summer reading camps to help students boost skills.
“Their parents will be getting a notice that they’ve tested below grade level, that they are in danger of being retained,” Mackey said. “They may go to summer camp and take a similar test again, they may be promoted on a good cause exemption.”
To parents who get the notice, Mackey said, “One, don’t panic. Two, believe the results. And then three is get your child in summer reading camp and talk to your principal or your reading coach about strategies to help at home.”
This is the first year that the retention provision of the Alabama Literacy Act will take effect. Over the past several years, schools have worked to identify struggling readers, from kindergarten forward, and to offer targeted support.
“The whole point here, as we said before, is not about retention,” he added. “It’s about prevention and intervention.”
Second grade reading test results showed more than 9,600 second graders out of nearly 47,000, or 17%, tested below grade level, down from 25% last year.
“The second grade test is specifically a little more rigorous because we want to make sure that we almost over-identify students in second grade,” Mackey said.
While no specifics about school results were shared, Mackey said there was a general trend in which schools had the most students that struggled.
The districts that have high poverty,” he said, “are tending to lag behind our more affluent districts.”
School-level results will be released on June 13.