Alabama has been focusing on improving reading proficiency among its students, particularly in the early grades. Recent data from the Alabama Comprehensive Assessment Program (ACAP) reveals that 24% of Alabama’s third graders were reading below grade level in 2023, an increase from 22% in 2022. This rise in below-grade-level readers highlights ongoing challenges, despite the state’s efforts to boost literacy rates.

The Literacy Act and Its Impact

The Alabama Literacy Act, passed in 2019, aims to ensure that all students are reading at grade level by the end of third grade. The act has led to significant investments in reading instruction and support, including the revitalization of the Alabama Reading Initiative (ARI). This program provides school-based reading coaches and intensive professional development for teachers from Kindergarten to third grade, focusing on science-based reading instruction methods.

COVID-19 and Its Effects

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a notable impact on reading proficiency. The current third graders were in kindergarten when schools closed in the spring of 2020, and their early education was disrupted by remote learning and other pandemic-related challenges. These disruptions have contributed to the increase in students reading below grade level.

Underserved Students and Reading Scores

Data indicates that underserved students, particularly those from low-income backgrounds and high-poverty areas, tend to have lower reading scores. These students face additional challenges that can impede their literacy development, including limited access to resources and support outside of school. The highest concentration of students testing below grade level tends to be found in school systems where the poverty level is highest. This underscores the importance of targeted interventions and support for these communities.

Efforts to Address Reading Deficiencies

To combat these challenges, Alabama has implemented various initiatives. Summer literacy boot camps are offered to students from kindergarten through third grade who are not reading at grade level. These camps aim to provide intensive reading support, with transportation assistance to encourage attendance. According to State Superintendent Eric Mackey, about half of the students who attend these camps reach grade-level reading proficiency by the end of the summer.

Lowering the Proficiency Cut Score

In the fall of 2023, the Alabama State School Board decided to lower the proficiency cut score for reading assessments. This change means that fewer students are now classified as reading below grade level, but it has sparked debate about the standards of literacy and the implications for student success. While this adjustment may temporarily alleviate retention rates, it raises concerns about long-term literacy and educational outcomes.

The Importance of Early Literacy

Research underscores the importance of reading proficiency by the end of third grade. Students who are not proficient readers by this time are four times more likely to fail to graduate from high school. Additionally, struggling readers from low-income backgrounds are three times more likely to drop out of high school compared to their peers who are not living in poverty. This data highlights the critical need for early intervention and support to ensure long-term academic success.

Looking Ahead

As Alabama continues to implement the Literacy Act, the state remains focused on providing the necessary resources and support to improve reading outcomes. The goal is to ensure that all students are equipped with the foundational reading skills they need to succeed in school and beyond.

For more information on Alabama’s literacy initiatives and the latest reading scores, visit the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) and the Alabama State Department of Education.


Improving reading proficiency in Alabama is an ongoing challenge, but with dedicated efforts and continued support, the state aims to make significant strides in ensuring that all students have the reading skills necessary for academic success and lifelong learning.


  • Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA)
  • Alabama State Department of Education