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Intervention, not retention: Education advocates support enhancements to reading skills bill

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Senate Bill 1 would require retention of third grade students who do not meet reading proficiency on the state test. Education advocates support enhancements to the bill to ensure early intervention and reduce retention rates.

Senate Bill 1, known as the reading skills bill, was passed by the senate on Jan. 18. The bill would require intensive interventions with the goal of improving literacy scores for students. Some of the interventions would include summer school, participation in the science of reading and identifying students who may need additional reading instruction. It would also require students to be retained if they do not meet reading proficiency on the statewide assessment.

The reading skills bill states that based on the evaluations given in the 2024-25 school year, retention and remediation would be required for certain schools “if the student has not achieved a passing score on evaluation.” This means students may have to repeat third grade if they do not reach reading proficiency and if they do not qualify for one of the exemptions.

To qualify for an exemption, a student must have been retained in the previous year, have a disability or Individualize Education Plan (IEP) that says retention is not appropriate, be an English learner with less than two years of services, or have a math score of proficient or higher on ILEARN.

The Legislative Services Agency “estimates that nearly 7,100 more students would repeat third grade” in fiscal year 2026 based on IREAD-3 scores from 2023.

Indiana’s recent focus on literacy comes after years of dropping reading scores for all students, especially students of color whose scores have been historically lower than their counterparts. IREAD-3 results reported by the Indiana Department of Education have shown that Black, Hispanic and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander students have performed significantly below other ethnicities.

2022-23 IREAD-3 Results

Black  65.6%  
Hispanic  68.9%  
Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander  70.9%  
American Indian  80.6%  
Multiracial  81.8%  
Asian  85.2%  
White  88.0%  

RISE Indy, an Indianapolis-based education advocacy group, “believes that every child, regardless of their background or circumstances, deserves the opportunity to receive a quality education so that they can reach their fullest potential,” according to a statement provided to the Recorder.

If trends remain consistent by ethnicity, students of color may be the most likely to face retention in the coming school years, but advocates say passing along students without foundational skills is not a solution.

“It’s not equitable right now the way the system is simply moving some students along in their K-12 career without the foundational literacy skills needed for success in life,” said Kayla Mattas, marketing and communications director for Stand for Children Indiana (SCI), a student advocacy organization.

Both RISE Indy and SCI support the bill, but the organizations recommend additional steps to better support students.

To meet the reading proficiency goal, RISE “is advocating for two enhancements to be added to the bill to strengthen the support for students’ literacy skills.”

First, RISE said testing second graders will help “identify struggling students” so that resources can be provided in advance of the third grade. Second, RISE advocates for “mandating summer school for all second-grade students not proficient in reading at grade level and requiring in-school high-dosage tutoring” as a means of providing needed support to students individually.

Kristin Casper, the government affairs director for SCI, said in a prepared testimony, “In the section of SB1 that outlines the good cause exemptions, we believe there needs to be an additional one added that allows a student to retake the IREAD after their summer school session – and if they pass – they are able to move on with their student cohort into 4th grade.”

SCI also said more time is needed to make sure teachers are trained to support student success. “That’s why we think the timeline for implementation of SB1 needs to shift out one additional year to give the system a chance for teachers to earn their literacy endorsement and have those well-trained teachers in place in schools,” Casper stated.

For reading support outside of school, RISE Indy offers the Freedom Readers program, which trains “parents and caregivers on interpreting their students’ scores and ‘science of reading’ principles so that they can support their students at home.” According to RISE, a byproduct of this training is that parents and caregivers improve their own literacy skills.

Advocates say early intervention is needed to reduce the number of students who will be retained.

“The goal is to not hold kids back, but rather ensure much more robust supports and interventions happen earlier – in kindergarten through 2nd grade,” said Mattas.

SB1 was passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee in an 8-3 vote on Jan. 25.

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  1. Holding children back a grade is psychologically and socially damaging. It often leads to bullying. Kids have enough challenges without that experience.
    We know that the most successful readers begin at home reading with parents/ siblilngs. What needs to happen is a return to the Phonics system using scientifically proven methods. Kids who lag their peers need tutors – not stigma. The schools need to solicit volunteer tutors from their communities and local employers (fi they’re not already doing this). Parent involvement in tutoring sessions would be ideal and likely help parents who may not be skilled readers themselves.
    There’s a lot of things that can be done without holding children back.

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