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Priority bill addressing literacy challenges is now on the governor’s desk

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Posted at 5:14 PM, Mar 01, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-01 17:16:32-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Teachers, parents and students are no strangers to literacy issues.

One in five third graders can’t read effectively by the end of third grade. This legislative session lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and governor made it a priority to address the issue.

To do so, they brought forward Senate Bill 1, which has several provisions and interventions for students who are struggling to read.

However, a portion of it has teachers and democratic lawmakers concerned.

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If after several interventions students aren’t able to pass the iRead test by the end of their third grade year, they will be retained or held back. That portion of the bill is something that even some republican lawmakers don’t agree with.

Parent and teacher Alyssa Roberts says this bill doesn’t take into consideration the unintending consequences it will create for school districts and teachers.

"If you don't pass this test by this date you are going to be retained solves nothing,” Roberts said. “In fact, it creates a whole list of other problems that either the legislators don't know, don't care to know or don't care about.”

Another portion of the bill would require kids who are struggling with reading to get extra instruction. Creating mandates like that is something Roberts says can create funding issues for schools across the state.

“So, if what we are saying is student’s deserve additional attention if they are struggling, where does that fall in the day,” asked Roberts. “Who is providing that and what funding is coming in to provide those additional people in order for this to happen?”

Last legislative session, lawmakers made it a requirement for schools to instructor students on the science of reading, a bill supported by educators in the state.

However, school corporations are still working to implement that way of teaching. Teachers have to be trained on that method, which people like Roberts says takes time and resources.

“Whenever you make big changes in the way the instruction is carried out, you can’t expect an immediate result,” Roberts said. “Sometimes when there is an immediate result, it’s kind of like a false positive and you have to monitor it for a long period of time to ensure what you are doing is effective.”

She feels the only way to truly address the literacy issue in the state is to fund public schools properly.

“The reality of the world we have built is it takes money to create change,” Roberts said.

The bill also received criticism from the Indiana State Teachers Association, the largest teacher’s association in the state. President of ISTA, Keith Gambill, released the following statement:

Senate Bill 1 introduces critical changes designed to enhance reading proficiency with new support and intervention strategies. While ISTA recognizes these efforts' potential to positively impact student learning, the emphasis on retention is shortsighted. This approach does not tackle the fundamental issues affecting educational outcomes. Educators are prepared to implement these initiatives, focusing on early intervention and comprehensive support to reduce the need for retention as much as possible. Today's literacy challenges did not happen in a vacuum but are the result of longstanding systemic problems, including the chronic underfunding of public schools and lack of support for educators. These problems have compounded, bringing us to the urgent situation we currently face. ISTA strongly encourages lawmakers to confront and address these foundational challenges. By doing so, we can truly ensure the success and well-being of all Indiana students.

The author of the bill, State Sen. Linda Rogers, has referred to SB1 as "Every Child Learns to Read." She feels it gives a comprehensive plan to help students learn to read by addressing curriculum, assessments and retention.

She sent out the following statement:

Reading is one of the most important skills for children to learn. The 'Every Child Learns to Read' bill would ensure all students are prepared for a successful future by identifying those students who need additional help, and, as a last resort, retaining those who still need more preparation. This will give our young Hoosiers the best chance at tackling more challenging lessons."

SEA 1 would require schools to provide kindergarten through eighth grade reading instruction aligned with Science of Reading [] curriculum. Senate Republicans have previously championed several laws to ensure the Science of Reading is taught in every Indiana classroom, including the 2023 state budget, which provided $60 million in funding for reading initiatives.

SEA 1 would also require schools to give the IREAD test to students in second grade, allowing those who pass at this stage to be exempt from taking the test again in the future. With this change, students who do not pass must receive targeted support during third grade to help them improve their reading skills.

After a full year of remediation and three opportunities to take the IREAD test, SEA 1 would require some students to be retained if they do not pass the test by the end of third grade. Exceptions to this include students who have already been retained in third grade, special-education students when deemed appropriate, certain English language learners and students who pass the math portion of the statewide assessment and receive remedial reading instruction.

I am proud to have authored a bill that so strongly encourages providing opportunities for all Hoosier children to learn to read, and I am grateful for the input from my fellow legislators in the House of Representatives that helped craft a bill that will give our children a greater chance at educational success in the future.