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Alabama May Require Kids to Take a Test to Start School

The state Legislature passed a “first-grade readiness” bill to require students who do not complete kindergarten to take a test to enter the first grade. If signed by Gov. Kay Ivey, the law will go into effect in July.

The Alabama legislature passed a long awaited “first-grade readiness” bill Thursday, May 9, which would require students who did not complete kindergarten to take a test to enter the first grade.

If signed by Gov. Kay Ivey, HB113 will go into effect in July. Starting in the 2025-26 school year, some first graders would need to take a test to make sure they are ready for school.

Rep. Pebblin Warren, D- Tuskegee, the bill’s sponsor, said the bill was nearly seven years in the making. She said she brought the legislation to ensure younger children are better prepared for first grade – and to reduce the number of students who might be at risk for retention later down the line.

“We needed a bill like this to try to help our kids so that we wouldn’t have to wait until the third grade to tell them they can’t read,” Warren told Wednesday after the Senate vote. “Kids need to have an earlier start to make sure we can introduce them to the educational system much earlier than we’ve been doing.”

Alabama’s literacy law requires third graders to be proficient in reading to be able to advance to the next grade. But the state is one of few that does not require kindergarten, which can contribute to a range of learning needs in earlier grades.

The first grade assessment would measure essential development and physical skills. It would be developed by the Alabama State Department of Education. Students who complete kindergarten would not have to take a test.

After the pandemic, retention rates for all K-3 students increased dramatically, state data shows. About 3,500 children were held back in first grade for each of the past three years. It’s unclear how many of those students did not complete kindergarten.

State education officials said they already have a few efforts in place to ensure students are ready for the first grade. At a committee meeting in March, a legislative liaison for the Alabama State Department of Education cited improvements to early childhood education, and said that an assessment is currently in the works.

Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D- Birmingham, who has historically been opposed to the bill, offered an amendment Wednesday to give schools more time to adjust to the law.

For the initial year of assessments, no student will be prevented from entering the first grade. If a student doesn’t do well, schools will be required to provide them with additional support, the bill states. A retention provision would take effect in 2026-27.

Warren said she was accepting of the change, but may come back next year with a proposal to speed up the process.

“When it comes to education in Alabama, we can’t have delays,” she said. “We need to take action and take it now.”

The Senate passed a revised version of the bill on Wednesday and the House approved the changes Thursday morning on a 99-1 vote.

The legislature also is working to finalize the state’s education budget, which includes $900,000 for a first grade readiness pilot program.

©2024 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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