The reality of Alabama's dismal reading scores – Montgomery Advertiser

The Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) tends to put a “positive spin” on student reading achievement when, in fact, Alabama students’ reading scores are dismal. In reality, achievement in reading remains stagnant or continues to decline. ALSDE’s implementation of grandiose new programs every few years is well-intentioned. But parents are entitled to know if their children are prepared to succeed in higher grade level subjects — all requiring grade-level reading. Significant gains continue to be elusive.
In his book, “The Educated Child” (1999), William Bennet, former U.S. Secretary of Education, warns, “A child who cannot read on grade level at the end of the third grade has a 70% chance of not graduating from high school.” That statement remains as accurate now as when it was written.
In a July 2022 ALSDE public information release are the 2021-2022 results of the Alabama Comprehensive Assessment Program (ACAP) third-grade reading assessment scores. The reading data shows that “78% of 3rd graders are reading on or above grade level, and 22% are not reading on grade level”. The outcome of 78% of 3rd-graders reading on or above grade level is not reflected in any state or national reading results, including previous Alabama reading assessment data. This sends an unreliable message to many parents.
Some students within this 78% group may be performing “partially” or below proficient. The ACAP defines “sufficient reading skills” as scoring “on or above the lowest achievement” level (one of the four levels) based on the Alabama Course of Study.
In October 2022, ALSDE released another reading assessment finding. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) was mandated by Congress in 1969. It is the premier, renowned academic assessment recognized for its reliability. NAEP assesses the core subjects of reading, mathematics, writing, and science. As do states’ assessment scores, it measures student achievement in reading and mathematics in all states.
It is essential to correctly interpret the two types of NAEP scores. “Average scale scores” represent how students performed (0 – 500) in each assessment group and ranked with other states. Scores are aggregated and reported at the student group level. “Achievement level performance standards” (reported as percentages) show what students should know and be able to do” in a particular subject.
NAEP’s 2022 National Report Card released all state performance achievement percentages for 4th­-grade reading. NAEP’s 2019 Alabama 4th-grade “proficient” level reading percentage was 28 and remained 28 in 2022. Eighth-grade reading score percentages dropped from 40 in 2019 to 39. According to NAEP, there has been no significant difference in reading achievement from 2022 to 1992 — 30 years.
On October 26, 2022, in an Education Week article entitled “NAEP Scores are a ‘Critical Realty Check.’ Kids pay the Price If They Are Misinterpreted’: Scott Marlon says, “State leaders should avoid the temptation to cherry-pick the results that tell the most positive story… the results [2022) do not support arguments about how school reopening policies affected scores. The (NAEP) results carry a clear message for state policymakers: They need to step up in a big way before we lose a generation of students.”
The Alabama State Board of Education (ALSBOE) is the principal policy-making elected body to ensure top-quality education for children. This profound responsibility calls for a commitment to challenge “feel­ good” leadership that thrives on packaging unacceptable low achievement as successful. The ALSBOE must recognize the current crisis of failed reading achievement among far too many children. A significant change is required to align ACAP to NAEP achievement standards, adding more rigor to ACAP.
Dr. David Nichols is a retired educator, school/university leader, and consultant (K – 12 and higher education). He has served on two local school boards in Alabama. He has authored op/ed articles in daily newspapers throughout Alabama, published in national journals, and books. He wrote a safety guide for all Alabama public schools — published and distributed by the Alabama School Boards Association. Nichols holds a Doctor of Education degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Alabama. He currently conducts research and published on current education issues.


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