Two local educators say the state's delay in setting a reading score third graders need to achieve to earn promotion has complicated efforts to help students improve on the standardized test, but a lawmaker says schools should already have focused on remediation.

An advisory panel recommended last week a cutoff score of 452 for third graders on the reading portion of the Alabama Comprehensive Assessment Program (ACAP), but the state school board won't vote on it until next month.

“It’s kind of concerning because here we are in October and we would really like to target how many third graders I have that aren’t over the number,” said Michael Douglas, superintendent of Decatur City Schools.

The 2019 Literacy Act requires that beginning this school year third graders not reading on grade level, based on spring testing, will be retained. State officials said 23% of Alabama third graders tested last spring wouldn't have met the 452 cutoff score for promotion if it had been in effect, but they have not yet released reading scores by district.

The Legislature passed a bill that would have delayed the retention requirement for two years, and Douglas is disappointed that Gov. Kay Ivey vetoed it in May. 

“This is why we’ve asked the state to delay because the cut score number should have been set before the school year started,” Douglas said. “We want to know where our kids are, and they won’t set the number.”

State students took the ACAP for the first time last spring after not having standardized tests in 2020 because of the pandemic and taking a Scantron test in the 2018-19 school year.

Karissa Lang, principal of Crestline Elementary School in Hartselle, said she and her staff cannot assist struggling third graders without knowing the score.

“We’re all waiting to hear what the cut score is going to be,” Lang said. “We’re all kind of nervous about this because the state board has not even voted on this yet.”

State Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, said educators should have been focused on reading remediation before students reached the third grade instead of waiting for a cutoff score.

“Every school is doing their own formative (progress-monitoring) test, so they should be knowing how their students are doing,” Collins said. “I would hope that they continue to make sure that all of their teachers are trained in the science of reading.”

Douglas said they offer progress-monitoring tests to their students periodically to see where students are academically. He said their tests did not correlate with ACAP, and so students were left unprepared when they had to take the standardized test.

“What I believe the Legislature was referring to are progress-monitoring assessments," Douglas said. "They are only good if they align and give you the same data that the standardized tests do.”

Decatur and Hartselle City students were previously given STAR assessment tests and Douglas said more than half of the students tested proficient.

“A test like STAR tells me 60% of my kids are proficient, and then I get ACAP and it says 40,” Douglas said.

The Renaissance company says its STAR reading assessment data provides "action steps for educators, giving teachers helpful insights and tools to strengthen instruction."

“Because the (ACAP) test is so new, we haven’t been able to figure out what we have to make on STAR in order to be considered proficient on ACAP,” Lang said. “So you have to take a couple of years of data to be able to try to judge.”

Douglas said that he along with other area superintendents have been communicating with each other, discussing what would be the best progress-monitoring assessment to use.

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