Tuesday, the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) presented statewide data showing that thousands of Indiana students are advancing to fourth grade each year “without foundational reading skills.” The data is the focus of a new data visualization tool, which was previewed to the State Board of Education (SBOE) on Tuesday and will soon be available to the public.

“First students learn to read, and then they read to learn,” said Dr. Katie Jenner, Indiana Secretary of Education. “Today data show that one in five Indiana students have not mastered foundational reading skills by the end of third grade, and most of these same students are advancing to fourth grade unable to read. As a result, these students often struggle to master future learning and may not graduate. We must continue to work together  – as educators, parents and families and policy makers – to utilize our data, align our resources and urgently identify additional solutions that ensure every Indiana child learns to read before leaving third grade.”

The IDOE says releasing this new data visualization tool will be essential to understanding where students are today and will provide useful information to support educators, parents and families and community leaders in ensuring all Indiana students can read. “As this tool continues to be developed and improved, over time it will also help to: quantify the number of students in each grade level who are unable to read, track the long-term impacts of illiteracy, evaluate the impact of the state’s current literacy efforts and inform ongoing policy decisions,” the IDOE said.

Key takeaways from the data presented to SBOE include:

  • Indiana’s literacy rates have been dropping for a decade, well before the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • While third grade enrollment has declined since 2012, the number of students who do not pass has more than doubled.
  • As reading scores have decreased, retention rates have also decreased,causing thousands of students to enter fourth grade unable to read.
    • Data show that over 96 percent of students who did not pass IREAD-3 were advanced to fourth grade.
  • Of the approximately 14,000 students who did not pass IREAD-3 in 2023, over 5,500 received a Good Cause Exemption (GCE).
    • A GCE exempts eligible third grade students from additional IREAD-3 testing requirementsafter receiving “Did Not Pass” on the assessment.
    • Eligible students who may qualify for a GCE include: students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP), identified English learners (ELs) and students who have been retained in third grade twice.
    • Of the 8,337 students who did not pass and did not receive a GCE, 7,925 (95 percent) of those students were still advanced to fourth grade.
  • Without future IREAD-3 data for students who did not pass, it is unclear at the state-level if they ever learn to read. However, other data points suggest most continue struggle.
    • Students who do not achieve proficiency on IREAD-3 experience ongoing difficulties with text complexity, engagement with research components and writing skills.
    • Data indicate that students receiving GCEs consequently demonstrate lower proficiency on subsequent ILEARN assessments.
  • Overall, students who do not pass IREAD-3 are at risk of not achieving proficiency on future assessments, including ILEARN, and are less likely to graduate.

The IDOE also says a recent third-party study, ‘Holding Back to Move Forward: The Effects of Retention in the Third Grade on Student Outcomes, 2022  shows that in Indiana from 2011-2012 and 2016-2017, third-grade retention increased achievement in English/language arts (ELA) and math immediately and substantially, and the positive effects persist into middle school. They say being retained did not have a negative effect on student attendance or disciplinary incidents in later grades.

“To support schools and educators, as well as parents and families in preparing students with foundational reading skills, Indiana continues to make historic investments in literacy, totaling over $170 million,” the IDOE said.

Below are examples of how this investment is being used to positively impact students –

  • Schools may join the Indiana Literacy Cadre where educators at participating schools can receive free instructional coaching in science of reading.
  • Eligible parents may access Indiana Learns which provides additional learning support and tutoring at no cost.
  • Parents may join the new Parent and Family Support Hub on the Indiana Learning Lab, providing free, 24/7 access to resources to support student learning.
  • Educators may complete IDOE’s science of reading modules, developed in partnership with Marian University, through the Indiana Learning Lab. Eligible teachers can also earn a $1,200 stipend by completing the modules.
  • Schools may administer IREAD-3 at Grade 2 to gain access to an early “On Track indicator” for parents/families and teachers to determine if students will master foundational reading skills by the end of grade three.
  • Schools may receive targeted support through a Literacy Support Plan, specifically designed for Indiana schools falling below 70% IREAD-3 passage.
  • Teachers may earn incentives for improving IREAD-3 scores through Indiana’s Literacy Achievement Grants (awards to be announced in December).
  • Schools continue to utilize IDOE’s Science of Reading Grant funding to support science of reading implementation through instructional coaching, curriculum, and professional development.
  • COMING SOON: Current educators will be able to pursue the science of reading-focused literacy endorsement at no cost.

To learn more about additional literacy supports available to Indiana schools, click here.

The presentation from Tuesday’s SBOE meeting can be found here.