MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — After COVID-19 disrupted two school years, Alabama lawmakers on Monday voted to delay an upcoming state requirement for third graders to pass a reading test before moving up to the fourth grade.
The House of Representatives voted 68-27 for the bill by Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, that would delay the promotion requirement, now set to take effect next year, by two years. The bill now goes to Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey.
The high-stakes promotion requirement is set to take effect at the end of the 2021-2022 school year, but supporters argued it would be unfair to force the requirement on students who were out of the traditional classroom for long stretches during the pandemic. The bill would move the implementation to the 2023-2024 school year.
“These kids have had 14 months of not normal schooling. All they are asking for is a little compassion. I have never ever had a bill where I’ve had so many educators call me,” Rep. Barbara Drummond, D-Mobile, said.
The bill passed with bipartisan support. During an earlier committee meeting, members of both parties described the difficulties students and parents had in keeping up with schoolwork during the pandemic when classrooms were closed.
Opponents have argued it would be a disservice to students to delay the promotion requirement — a part of a broader state program to boost literacy— or that the state should wait until latest test scores are available to decide.
Republican Rep. Terri Collins of Decatur, who sponsored the measure in 2019, argued lawmakers should wait and see test scores from this year before deciding if a delay is needed.
“We are going to have good data in just a month and then we can say where we are,” Collins said.
Alabama lawmakers in 2019 approved several initiatives to try to boost reading scores. It included that beginning in the 2021-22 school year, third graders would be required to meet reading benchmarks before moving to the fourth grade. Students would have to make a minimum score on a reading assessment or demonstrate mastery of all third-grade state reading standards as evidenced by a student reading portfolio.