On Thursday, Governor Kay Ivey vetoed a bill that would have delayed the 3rd grade retention provision of the Alabama Literacy Act by two years. With this veto, Governor Ivey put Alabama students first, reaffirming Alabama’s commitment to ensuring that no student will leave elementary school without the basic reading skills they need to be successful in school and life.
The impact of the pandemic on students requires us to focus even more on literacy right now, not delay urgent action. Students need every support the Alabama Literacy Act provides. It assesses where students are. It provides interventions to help struggling readers as early as problems are identified. It trains teachers in the science of reading. It gives parents clear guidance on where their children have needs and how those needs are being addressed. Finally, it stops the practice of passing students along without the basic skills they need to succeed in school and the workforce. The Literacy Act is so much more than retention as a last resort – it’s all about ensuring every child can read.
Research shows that students who cannot read on grade level by fourth grade have little to no chance of graduating. Socially promoting students sets them up to fall further behind in other subjects, like math, which requires more word problems as students advance. A 2017 Harvard study showed students retained in third grade under a similar Florida law performed better than their peers in middle school, had higher GPAs in high school, and took fewer remedial courses.
The last-resort retention component of the Act does not begin until the end of the 2021-2022 school year, and we will soon have current state data from this year’s ACAP spring assessment, which will help us determine who needs support and what support they need. Governor Ivey appropriately determined that the proposed delay in implementation was premature and any future delay should be made based on the most current data. The Legislature can make that determination later this year or in 2022 before any potential retention occurs. Right now, we must maintain our momentum.
Alabama is at a critical juncture in our efforts to improve literacy. With this veto, Governor Ivey sends a strong, clear message that full implementation of the Literacy Act is the commitment that is needed to ensure a bright future for all Alabama students.