The Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) tends to put a “positive spin” on student reading performance, when in fact, Alabama student reading results are dismal. In reality, reading performance stagnates or continues to decrease. It is well intentioned that ALSDE launches terrific new programs every few years. But parents have a right to know if their children are ready to succeed in higher grade subjects — all of which require grade-level reading skills. Significant profits remain difficult to achieve.
William Bennet, former US Secretary of Education, warns in his book The Educated Child (1999): “A child who cannot read at grade level by the end of third grade has a 70 percent chance of not graduating from school. ” This statement is as accurate now as it was when it was written.
A July 2022 public information release from ALSDE details the 2021-2022 results of third grade reading assessment results from the Alabama Comprehensive Assessment Program (ACAP). The reading data show that “78% of third graders read at or above grade level and 22% read not at grade level.” The result of 78% of third graders reading at or above grade level is not reflected in any state or national reading score, including previous reading assessment data from Alabama. This sends an unreliable message to many parents.
Some students in this 78% group may perform “partially” or underperform. ACAP defines “sufficient reading ability” as a rating “at or above the lowest proficiency level” (one of the four levels) based on the Alabama degree program.
In October 2022, ALSDE published another reading assessment result. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) was commissioned by Congress in 1969. It is the leading, prestigious academic assessment recognized for its reliability. NAEP assesses the core subjects of reading, math, writing and science. Like state assessment scores, it measures student achievement in reading and math across states.
It is important to correctly interpret the two types of NAEP scores. “Average scale scores” represent how students in each rating group (0-500) performed and ranked with other states. The results are aggregated and reported at the student group level. “Achievement standards at proficiency level” (expressed as a percentage) show what students should know and be able to do in a given subject.
NAEP’s 2022 National Report Card published all state achievement percentages for 4th grade reading. NAEP’s 4th grade 4th grade reading percentage in 2019 was 28 and remained at 28 in 2022. 8th grade reading achievement percentages decreased to 39 from 40 in 2019. According to NAEP, there was no significant difference in reading performance between 2022 and 1992 – 30 years.
On October 26, 2022 in an Education Week article entitled “NAEP Results Are a ‘Critical Realty Check.’ Children pay the price when misinterpreted’: Scott Marlon says, ‘Leaders should resist the temptation to pick the results that tell the most positive story… scores affected. The (NAEP) results send a clear message to state policymakers: They need to take a big step forward before we lose a generation of students.”[2022)donotsupportargumentsabouthowschoolreopeningpoliciesaffectedscoresThe(NAEP)resultscarryaclearmessageforstatepolicymakers:Theyneedtostepupinabigwaybeforeweloseagenerationofstudents”[2022)donotsupportargumentsabouthowschoolreopeningpoliciesaffectedscoresThe(NAEP)resultscarryaclearmessageforstatepolicymakers:Theyneedtostepupinabigwaybeforeweloseagenerationofstudents”
The Alabama State Board of Education (ALSBOE) is the primary policy body elected to ensure quality education for children. This profound responsibility requires a commitment to challenge the “feel good” leadership that thrives on packaging unacceptably underachievement as successful. The ALSBOE must acknowledge the current crisis of reading failure in far too many children. A major change is needed to align ACAP with NAEP performance standards and make ACAP more rigorous.
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 written articles for newspapers throughout Alabama and has published in national magazines and books. He wrote a safety guide for all Alabama public schools – published and distributed by the Alabama School Boards Association. Nichols holds a PhD in Educational Leadership from the University of Alabama. He is currently researching and publishing on current educational topics.