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Alabama Policymakers Explore How to Increase Early Literacy Proficiency

• Cari Miller

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to visit Alabama yesterday to speak with the House Education Committee. The committee is considering legislation (House Bill 388) to ensure students have the reading skills they need by the end of third grade to be successful in the future. During the hearing I talked about the importance of early literacy, discussed the components of a comprehensive early literacy policy and highlighted success stories in Alabama’s neighboring states.

Learning to read by the end of third grade is the gateway to lifelong success. When students are not able to read by the end of third grade, their risk of falling behind grows exponentially. In fact, research shows that nearly 90 percent of high school dropouts were struggling readers in third grade. Ensuring all kids can read by the end of third grade sets them on the path to learn, graduate and succeed.

How can we help all students achieve this?

A comprehensive early literacy initiative, like the one proposed in HB388, can be the difference. This policy establishes scientifically based reading instruction and intervention for K-3 students to ensure they read on grade level by the end of third grade. The policy then requires third grade students to demonstrate sufficient reading skills for promotion to fourth grade. When needed, retention provides struggling readers the additional time and intensive interventions they need to catch up with their peers.

There are now 12 states across the nation that have adopted an early literacy policy similar to HB388, and 8 of those states have had the policy long enough to analyze the impact. Students in all eight – including Florida and Mississippi – outperform states without such policies on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

In 2002, Florida’s fourth-grade readers performed far below the national average on NAEP. By 2017, Florida ranked fourth in the nation in fourth-grade reading performance overall and outperformed the national average in every subgroup.

Since Mississippi enacted the Literacy-Based Promotion Act in 2013, the state’s fourth-grade NAEP reading scores have substantially improved, data show that reading proficiency increased by six percentage points. The percentage of fourth graders scoring below basic decreased by 7 percentage points. In fact, in 2017 Mississippi was second in the nation in fourth-grade learning gains in reading.

HB388 includes many of Florida and Mississippi’s policies and practices in an effort to emulate their success and improve student reading achievement statewide in Alabama.

It is extremely reassuring to see policymakers recognize the sheer importance of grade level reading. It’s the best way to set students on a path to learn, graduate and succeed.

For more information on early literacy, please visit the ExcelinEd website.

About the author

Cari Miller

Cari Miller serves as Policy Director of Early Literacy for ExcelinEd. She works hand in hand with states pursuing a comprehensive approach to K-3 reading policy, and she supports state departments with effective policy implementation. Cari is a former elementary teacher and reading coach. She also served as the Deputy Director of Just Read, Florida!, Governor Jeb Bush’s statewide literacy initiative. At Just Read, Florida!, she served in other capacities, including: Elementary Reading Specialist, Director of Reading First and Director of Elementary Reading. Her sole mission is to improve student reading achievement across the nation.