MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — The Alabama State Board of Education voted Thursday to lower the reading score third graders must achieve in order to move to fourth grade.

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This decision is part of implementing the Literacy Act passed in 2019.

Starting this school year, the Literacy Act requires third graders to reach a certain reading score on a statewide test — the Alabama Comprehensive Assessment Program — in order to go to fourth grade.

On Thursday, Board members voted 5-3 to lower that score two standard errors below what’s considered grade-level reading.

“This is a typical thing that all testing administrators do,” State Superintendent Eric Mackey said.

Mackey said the score change comes as the state adopts a new, more difficult test while complying with the Literacy Act’s hold-back requirement.

“It’s unfortunate that we are having to have this very difficult complex discussion at the same time we are implementing retention,” Mackey said.

Mackey said the lower score provides 90% assurance that the state is actually capturing the students who are below grade level.

The three board members who voted against the lower score said it lowers the bar and will ultimately hurt students who move up but can’t sufficiently read.

“We’re doing a great disservice if we set the bar too low,” Board member Stephanie Bell said.

Board member Jackie Zeigler agreed.

“I cannot vote for the practice of promoting nonproficient readers,” Zeigler said.

Mackey estimated with the new score around 10,000 to 12,000 students will not make the cut. After accounting for the exceptions in place and alternate ways students can still move to the fourth grade, Mackey said still many thousands of students will be held back next year.

“Principals have got to know they’re going to have more students in third grade than they’re used to,” Mackey said. “That might mean moving teachers from say a 4th grade classroom to 3rd grade. It might mean that they have to, in some cases, reorganize a whole school district.”

Gov. Kay Ivey was not present for the meeting, but Mackey said she supports the change.

The Board will review the score in the summer of 2024.