By Nicole S. Daniel
The Birmingham Times
When Birmingham City Schools opened on Monday students entered a new academic school year with an intense focus on improving literacy.
Pamela Williams, Ph.D, the Interim Academic Officer of Birmingham City School System, said administrators are working on an initiative to ensure that third grade students are reading on grade level, which is required by the Alabama Literacy Act which passed in 2019 to help improve reading in Alabama public schools.
“Students this year must be reading on grade level, or we have to find other ways to document their progress through good cause,” said Williams.
“Our goal is to ensure as many students as we can, if not all, third graders are reading on grade level,” Williams said. “This year, we’re launching a Birmingham Reading Initiative that will be so comprehensive that it will include not only our students and our teachers, but also our community stakeholders and our partners” such as the mayor’s office and United Way just to name a few.
Asked what will be done differently this academic year to ensure students are reading on grade level, Williams replied, “we’re going to be very strategic and working with our schools and our teachers to make sure they’re prepared to teach all levels of learners when it comes to reading.”
“We will provide teachers with training in best practices for differentiating instruction based on students individual learning needs. For example, best practices for teaching English Language Learners.”
She also added there will be strategies for higher achievers who are currently reading on grade level but, “we’re also going to put interventions and structures in place for our students who are not reading on grade level.”
The state of Alabama requires a reading portfolio that documents whether a student is achieving standards “and we’re going to be very intentional and making sure that our students who are not reading on grade level are receiving those standards-based lessons and instruction so that they can have a strong portfolio at the end of third grade.”
Her office will monitor data and ensure that students get the assistance they need to move to the next level and most importantly open the school year strong, she said.
“We had a sensational summer learning, we will continue to offer science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) activities, coding and we’re going to continue to make to [build on] our award-winning fine arts department.”
The system also wants to bring exposure to colleges and careers in elementary and middle schools, Williams said. “That could be through class activities, having more college career fairs in our elementary schools, and integrating career opportunities in our curriculum,” she said.
Besides ensuring the third graders are reading on grade level, Williams is excited about post-secondary readiness during the school year. “We want to increase the amount of students that we have graduating that are considered college and career ready.”
“We’re going to put structures in place to ensure that we get more students that achieved what the state indicates that a student is college and career ready.”
The goal this school term is to “really look closely at all of our post-secondary programs, and identify structures that we can put in place to increase the amount of students that achieve college and career readiness,” she said.