Across the Board January 2023: Key Takeaways from the ALBOE Meeting

Recapping important State Board of Education policy decisions for you

Here are our key takeaways from the January 12th State Board of Education meeting and work session – and what they mean for Alabama’s students.  

Farewell and thank you to Dr. Cynthia McCarty! This is the final meeting of State Board Member Dr. Cynthia McCarty of District 6. She has been a phenomenal State Board leader and a constant voice for students! She will be greatly missed after eight years of service to our state.

Top 4 Key Takeaways

>Alabama Numeracy Act Updates: Alabama State Rep. Alan Baker attended today’s meeting to address the Board about the implementation of the Alabama Numeracy Act following the discussion between board members and Dr. Mackey at the December work session. The Numeracy Act is a comprehensive plan to improve early numeracy for Alabama students (for an overview of the law, click here). 

In his remarks, Rep. Baker emphasized the intent of the Legislature regarding the Numeracy Act and the timelines within the legislation. The timelines in the legislation were included to get the plan moving with all deliberate speed, yet tempered with the pursuit of getting it right.

There were slight delays with the hiring of the Director of the Office of Math Improvement (OMI) and the selection of the external evaluator as required in the Act. However, Rep. Baker made clear that outside of those two timelines, the expectation is that all other deadlines are met. 

Implementation of the Act has begun. The Elementary Math Task Force has begun its work of vetting instructional materials (for core instruction and interventions) and assessments, as well as beginning to lay out a continuum of professional learning for educators. Starting this fall, the first wave of math coaches will be in the lowest-performing schools, which will soon receive $90K this month to begin hiring these coaches.

With only 28% of Alabama students proficient in math, A+ Education Partnership believes that effective implementation of the Alabama Numeracy Act will be critical to providing a strong foundation for our youngest students. We also would like to recognize that Alabama was the only state in the nation to hold steady in math proficiency through the pandemic.  With students across the country struggling to learn math, this gives our state an opportunity to be a national leader in COVID recovery. Alabama can provide the blueprint for helping students to reach their full potential in math.

>First-Grade Readiness: After a long discussion last month summarized here, the board has decided to move forward announcing their intent to adopt a new policy pertaining to first-grade readiness, with Mrs. Ziegler and Mrs. Bell voting against the measure. 

A+ Education Partnership strongly supports a first-grade readiness policy and applauds the board for moving in this direction. However, we are concerned the wording in the current proposal does not provide enough clarity on the assessment that would be used to determine first-grade readiness. Without more specificity, it could result in different bars for first-grade entry in different districts, which could hurt students and create confusion for parents. We strongly recommend the State Board define the assessment to be used so there is one clear policy and bar to define first-grade readiness that all districts adopt. Kindergarten, when kids learn critical skills to prepare them for grade school, is critical to ensure that we give every Alabama student a strong start. 

Today, the Board announced its intent to adopt this change, but it is not yet adopted into the code. There will be a 60-day comment period for the public to make their voice heard about the newly proposed rule, which can be done here when it is posted.

>Alabama Literacy Act & Three-Cueing: During board questions, Dr. McCarty inquired if three cueing was still being used in our schools. The three-cueing system is a way of teaching reading that directs students to look at three different “cues,” to guess what a word might say. These include: 1) graphic cues (what do the letters or pictures tell you about what the word might be?), 2) syntactic cues (what kind of word could it be, for example, a noun or a verb?), and 3) semantic cues (what word would make sense here, based on the context?). This is different than explicit instruction in phonics where you sound out the word.

Researchers have found that over 60 percent of students need explicit instruction to learn to read aligned with the science of reading. Three cueing directs children to guess if they don’t know the words on a page and is not explicit instruction. To read more about the three-cueing system and the significant harm it has done to students across the country, click here. To learn more about the science of reading and what explicit reading instruction looks and sounds like, listen to Emily Hanford’s podcast, Sold A Story.

Dr. Mackey did acknowledge that there are both K-12 systems and postsecondary educator prep programs that are still using instructional materials that teach the three-cueing system. One of the primary goals of the Alabama Literacy Act is to ensure that our teacher training and curricula are grounded in the science of reading and implementation is fully underway. To learn more about the Alabama Literacy Act, which is based in the science of reading, view this page on our Policy Portal.

>Traditional & Alternative Teacher Prep Organizations: After several months of discussion, the Board announced its intent to adopt a new Alabama Administrative Code rule pertaining to alternative teacher preparation organizations (see last month’s ATB and September’s ATB). This rule will allow such organizations to come to Alabama to train teachers as an alternative to prospective teachers going through a program at a college or university. This action by the Board is required by a law passed during the 2022 legislative session. 

Research shows that there are benefits and drawbacks to traditional teacher pathways and alternative pathways. However, regardless of where teacher candidates are trained, every student deserves an excellent teacher that is prepared to help them succeed in the classroom. 

In addition, during the work session, the Board discussed a code change to be brought to the February Board Meeting that would change the current faculty requirements for traditional teacher preparation programs in colleges of education to match those for alternative teacher preparation organizations. 

All changes to the Alabama Administrative Code, like with the First Grade Readiness policy, require a 60-day public comment window before any official changes are made. You can do that here when it is posted, and read more on the process here.

>In case you missed it… Dr. Melissa Shields was hired as the new Assistant Superintendent of Student Learning for the ALSDE. Congratulations!

Contact Your Board Member:

Have feedback on any of the above items – or anything else? Contact your state school board member using the resources below:

-To contact your State Board of Education Member, click here.

-To find out which district you live and/or teach in, click here. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and enter your address in the “Polling Place Search” box. Once entered, it will take you to a page that shows your polling place and the districts you live in.

-To view a map of the state school board districts, click here.