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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — The state of Alabama has taken several steps in recent years to try and improve the reading scores of elementary school students across the state, but reading scores released from the part year show students are still performing at about the same level as 2019.

According to the 2021-22 ACAP scores, 22% of third graders in Alabama are not proficient readers.

However, the state average of a 78% reading proficiency rate is better than some local averages.

The number of Huntsville City School students testing at or above their grade level is two points lower than the state average. 13 of the 26 elementary schools in Huntsville City Schools fall below the state average, including two schools where more than half of the students tested are not reading at their grade level: Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary and James Dawson Elementary.

Huntsville City Schools board member Ryan Renaud said the problem starts before students reach the third grade, so early intervention is important.

“We really have to identify our students that are not on grade level before the third grade, which is why the ACAP specifically targets the third grade,” Renaud said. “A lot of our intervention strategies really focus on K-3, Kindergarten, first, second, and third grade because we know once they get to third grade, it’s much harder to get them back on track.”

In 2019, the Alabama Legislature passed the literacy act which offered to fund and created reading programs for school districts, all to raise literacy rates in the state. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Alabama consistently ranks in the bottom 25% of states for literacy.

Renaud said literacy is difficult to address on a broad scale.

“Education is not a one size fits all box, so you may have a student that’s on or below grade level. You may have one that’s two grades ahead, and all of those students are going to have a different strategic plan. That is where the burden falls on the educator in the classroom to work individually with each student.”

Renaud said the school district is working to support individual teachers and offer them resources, but state legislators may soon require schools to take more action.

The state’s literacy act includes a retention requirement which calls for students who fail to reach a proficient reading level to be held back and repeat the third grade. The requirement was originally set to take effect during the 2021-22 school year, but through the pandemic, state officials pushed back the retention requirement to the 2023-24 school year.

Going by current scores, 419 third graders in Huntsville City Schools would be at risk of being held back, but schools have two more years to bring up reading levels before they have to take that action.