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CCS looks at new reading law

By JOYANNA LOVE/ Senior Staff Writer

The Chilton County Board of Education received an overview of the Alabama Literacy Act during a meeting on Nov. 19.

Ashlie Harrison, director of the Department of Teaching and Learning for the school system, said the majority of the requirements in the act did not have funding from the state attached to it.

“It is going to reinforce K-3 reading,” Harrison said.

The law requires students to be proficient in reading by third grade. Harrison said this portion of the law will take effect when current first grade students are in third grade.

Assessments for reading give a number for the level a student is reading on. Harrison said what level will be required to repeat third grade was yet to be announced. However, she believed it would only be those who scored in the lowest possible level. This assessment will be different from the method used to test proficiency after each nine weeks in kindergarten through third grade.

“If they are one of those students who have been retained in third grade, their class size cannot be more than 15,” Harrison said.

The student will also receive “intensive instruction.”

Board President Angie Sanderson asked if the school system would be given more funding to hire teachers because of this stipulation. Harrison said no.

Harrison said she has spoken to administrators about having struggling kindergarten students repeat the grade in order to get them reading on grade level to help the student before they ever reach third grade.

However, since kindergarten is not required in Alabama, if a parent wants their child to continue on to the first grade, then they can, according to Harrison.

The law has created a Literacy Taskforce at the state level that will create a comprehensive program for implementation.

“We have struggled across the district in recent years in having consistency in our reading programs,” Harrison said. “With this, we will have a consistent reading program.”

This program could be put in place as early as next year, depending on funding. Harrison said school systems will receive a list of state-approved programs to use and will be required to pick one from the list.

Chilton County Schools has also created a team that will be focused on implementation and coming into compliance with the new law.

“The science of reading” is a focus for the law.

“It is the way you teach reading … how you should teach reading in order for your students to be successful,” Harrison said.

An state-approved assessment tool will be required as well. Harrison said this is one aspect of the law that is funded. This list and funding is expected to be available in January. The school system already has an assessment tool it is using, however, it is unknown whether this program will be on the state-approved list.

Harrison said the school system will have to report progress to the state department.

“They are going to use that data to determine our funding for next year,” Harrison said.

Students struggling in reading will take the reading assessment “after each grading period,” Harrison said.

From a financial perspective, one of the main challenges with the new law is the requirement to offer a five-week summer camp for those who are not reading on grade level. Harrison said the school system is being highly encouraged to hold one of these this summer even though it is not required to until next year. She is looking into a possible partnership with the YMCA to help cover some of the cost. Transportation for the students would also be a consideration.

While the camp would be offered, the law does not require struggling students to attend.

The requirements for reading specialists are also changing. However, Harrison said all of the CCS reading specialists already meet the new requirements.

Reading specialists will no longer be able to be an administrator and serve as a reading specialist. Harrison said this will impact Verbena because the reading specialist is a part time vice principal for Verbena Annex.

In addition to these qualifications for the school systems, colleges will have to make changes to better prepare future teachers on how to teach students to read.

Harrison said a similar act for math requirements might be introduced for consideration in the next legislative session.