Bill to address student literacy passes senate, debated in house

SOUTH BEND, Ind.-- Wednesday in the Indiana statehouse, a senate bill that passed earlier this month was discussed in a House committee. The bill, authored by local Congresswoman Linda Rogers (R-Granger), addresses reading proficiency for grade school Hoosiers, particularly third graders.

The bill, if made law, would keep third graders from moving on to fourth grade if they can't pass the iRead exams. One in five Hoosier third graders don't pass the state reading comprehension standardized test, as Indiana Secretary of Education, Dr. Katie Jenner testified in a committee hearing.

"Looking at our 2023 data, we had about 14,000 students across Indiana who were not able to read by the end of third grade. About 6,000 of those students received a good cause exemption, about 410 were retained. The rest of the students, over 7,000 moved forward to fourth grade not able to read," Jenner said. 

The bill, a priority for Senate Republicans, proposes students take the iReads in second grade. If they pass, they do not have to take it again. If they do not, summer school will be offered, and they will take it again in third grade. If they do not pass a second time, they will be held back from fourth grade.

While the bill aims to increase literacy in young people, it comes with concerns that holding students back will cause more harm than good in the long run and will disproportionately affect marginalized students. 

South Bend's Superintendent of Academics, Diamond Robinson, shares those concerns. 

"I definitely think we should have a focus on literacy in Indiana, however, I don't believe that retention is necessarily the best practice," she said. "But I do think we need to have a focus on our early readers to make sure that we're giving them interventions that need to take place early on."

Robinson would rather see the focus rest on pro-active intervention. 

Robinson said South Bend Schools falls in line with the state average-- nearly 20 percent of students aren't passing the iRead exams in third grade. Of course, the problem was exacerbated by the pandemic. Robinson did mention, however, that South Bend uses the curriculum proposed in the bill, Science of Reading, which she said is best practice. 

Jenner said the bill is a top priority for Senate Republicans and Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb.

"This year, we're really focused on student interventions, and making sure we're doing everything we can in those early grades, like kindergarten, first, second grade," she said. 

Click here for a map of Indiana's school districts and how they are scoring on the iReads. 

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