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ALSDE releases school level reading data


ALSDE releases school level reading data

Jun 14, 2024 | 8:01 am ET
By Jemma Stephenson
ALSDE releases school level reading data
Alabama State Schools Superintendent Eric Mackey listens during the Alabama State Board of Education's regular meeting on February 9, 2023 in Montgomery, Alabama. (Brian Lyman/Alabama Reflector)

The Alabama State Department of Education released school level reading scores Thursday amid an ongoing discussion on whether the numbers count as “grade level” numbers.

The school level data shows a range of scores for schools from 100% for “Percentage for On or Above Grade Level” to 45.54% for third graders.

For second grade, at the school level, it ranges from 100% to 40%.

In May, the Department said that 9% could be held back across the state.

The scores this year will decide whether some students advance from third grade. Students who don’t meet the threshold score could be retained for a year, but there are exemptions and summer reading camps that could allow students to continue to the next grade level.

The Alabama State Department of Education has communicated that a student meeting the cut score is a student on “grade level.”

But a story from Al.com Tuesday alleges that the cut score means a student has “sufficiency” but is not on “grade level.” Sufficiency is lower than grade level.

The state adopted a new reading test and a new cut score to go with it last year. The new test has a lower cut score than the previous version.

State Superintendent Eric Mackey said at the Alabama State Board of Education work session Thursday that he had two groups of statisticians meeting separately, as well as a group of elementary teachers, to come to that number.

The cut score is at two SEMs (standard error of measurement), which, according to Mackey, means they are 95% sure that a student would need to be retained. He said that a higher score, at one SEM, would mean they are 32% unsure.

Mackey showed a slide with cut scores of 473 (no adjustment), 454 (-1 SEM) and 435 (-2 SEM). He said that most states don’t talk about three scores.

“But they don’t talk about it in their public meetings,” he said. “They just show one number. Maybe that’s our fault for trying to be too open. But, you know, it is what it is.” 

With a score of 473, 67.9% of third graders in 2023 and 77.2% of third graders are above the needed score. With the current 435, 82.6% of third graders in 2023 and 91.0% of third graders in 2024 are above the needed score.

A message was left with a spokesperson for the Department, as well as Mackey, on exactly how they defined sufficient vs. grade level.

Board member Stephanie Bell, District 03, partly through the meeting, read aloud a social media post from Al.com reporter Trish Crain, who was in attendance and wrote the original story, about the grade level vs. sufficiency question, which as written says: “It’s worth noting that Dr. Mackey’s slide still stated that 91% of students are reading ‘on grade level’ – which isn’t what the 91% figure represents. It represents ‘sufficiency,’ which is a lower bar than on grade level which is a lower bar than proficiency. #ALBOE

“Well, it is different from proficiency,” Mackey said.

Mackey explained proficiency, which is used by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, as equivalent to “A” or “B” students.

Mackey said that “grade level” is, under the definition of the Literacy Act, below the cut score.

“If they’re not below grade level, what are they?” he said. “They’re either on or above grade level.”

He said that he doesn’t think it’s a “good term” but it’s in the Literacy Act, and he says their “technical folks” use sufficiency.  

“They’re not a great reader, but are they sufficient, that with supports, they can move to the next grade?” he said.

The 2019 Alabama Literacy Act, which is the source of the retention provision, includes language for both “sufficient reading skills” and “grade level.”

Over text Thursday, sponsor Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, wrote that sufficient is below grade level to her.

“The goal is Grade Level and Proficient,” she wrote. “The cut level is sufficient and will hopefully increase each year as students move forward.”

Collins wrote that she wants to follow the Literacy Taskforce and Grade Level Reading Committee recommendations, but wants a letter explaining the differences to parents.

Asked if she would want to amend the law to make such a letter mandatory, Collins wrote that she believes that it’s the Board’s “responsibility to continue to improve student success.”

“I appreciate their efforts so far to accomplish this,” she wrote.

After the work session adjourned, Bell told reporters that she thought such a letter wouldn’t be a “bad idea” but they need to make sure parents understand it.

“But if you’re going to get parents to take their children to a summer school program or any other program they need to fully understand why,” she said.