Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb discusses new grant funding to help improve literacy rates among Hoosier students. He made the announcement Tuesday at Eastside Elementary School in Anderson. (Casey Smith/Indiana Capital Chronicle)
ANDERSON, Ind. — Indiana will make its largest-ever financial investment in literacy after statewide standardized test scores showed that nearly one in five Hoosier third graders this past spring did not master foundational reading skills.
Up to $111 million in combined support from the Indiana Department of Education and the Lilly Endowment is intended to improve reading outcomes in Indiana schools, Gov. Eric Holcomb and other state officials announced Thursday.
“The past couple years — what a challenging, unprecedented time it has been. So much new thrown at us, having to adapt and adjust … but through it all, we arrive at today,” the Republican governor said during a media event at Eastside Elementary School in Anderson. “This couldn’t be a more timely response to the last couple of years.”
Where the money is going
Lilly Endowment approved an initial grant of up to $60 million for the effort. Additionally, up to $25 million is available to help Indiana colleges and universities incorporate or enhance Science of Reading methods into their undergraduate elementary teacher preparation programs. The scientifically-based teaching strategy is intended to shape educational approaches to reading and writing.
Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner said the IDOE’s investment of approximately $26 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) II funds aims to provide instructional support for educators.
She said all the new funding is intended to support the state education department’s goal to get 95% of Hoosier students achieving a pass-rate on IREAD-3 by 2027.
“It’s incredible. It’s aggressive, aspirational, but we have to get there. We must,” Jenner said about the state’s goal to increase student literacy. “We know that with this training and support, and our instructional coaches and teachers, we can get there for kids. We can’t wait to get started.”
State officials said elementary school teachers who participate in professional development focused on the Science of Reading will be eligible for stipends of up to $1,200 per teacher to allow them to receive additional training.
Already, 54 schools across the state are piloting Science of Reading instructional coaching this fall, according to the education department. With the additional financial support, IDOE expects to expand the optional trainings to 60% of Indiana elementary schools by the end of the 2025-2026 school year.
The state also plans to establish a new literacy center at IDOE to focus solely on the Science of Reading. The agency will recruit additional staff to provide Science of Reading technical assistance to schools, including resources through the Indiana Learning Lab.
State education department officials said the literacy center will serve as a “one-stop-shop” to oversee literacy efforts and provide assistance to teachers. It’s not clear exactly how much money is earmarked toward the center.
Holcomb previously said he supported spending a portion of the unexpected $6.1 billion state budget surplus on additional K-12 initiatives. Lawmakers declined to do so during a special legislative session that ended earlier this month though they did return $1 billion to taxpayer via a rebate.
“Come January, this will be the proper venue and the proper time to talk about something that has such an oversized impact on our budget, and rightly so” Holcomb said Thursday. “I would like to see more (in the next legislative session).”
A response to dismal literacy rates
New data released last week revealed 81.6% out of the 65,000 third graders at public and private schools in Indiana passed the 2022 Indiana Reading Evaluation and Determination, also called the IREAD-3 test.
The literacy rate is a significant drop from Indiana’s high of 91.4% in 2012-13.
Jenner said low income, Black, Hispanic, special education and English learner students — who had “persistent learning gaps” even prior to the pandemic — continue to need more targeted support. The new batch of funding will support efforts to specifically aid those students, she said.
While Black and Hispanic students increased their IREAD-3 pass rates by 2.1% and 1%, respectively, their overall proficiency rates remain significantly below their grade level peers.
Roughly 64% of Black students and English language learners passed the multiple-choice exam in 2022 — 10% fewer than in 2019.
White students achieved above-average pass rates at about 87%, according to test scores.
Clay Robbins, chairman and CEO of the Lilly Endowment, emphasized Thursday that it’s critical for Indiana to “double down” on childhood literacy, noting the importance of having “knowledgeable” and “educated” Hoosiers entering the workforce.
“We think this is going to have a big impact. Far too few of our third graders read sufficiently to really be able to do well in school later on,” Robbins said. “It’s critical that we come up with ways to make sure that they can — it’s just imperative. This is particularly true for children of color, and also low-income students.”
Rep. Vernon G. Smith, D-Gary, who serves on the House Education Committee, praised the funding announcement, saying the state is currently “failing students of color and low-income students.”
“I am glad that we are finally being listened to and our students’ needs will be met,” Smith said in a statement Thursday. “Increased funding and support for reading programs will be crucial in closing that gap and investing in the academic, professional and civic success of our state’s youth.”
His colleague, Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, was more critical of the announcement, arguing the state — and the Republican supermajority in the Indiana General Assembly — have so far failed to address shortcomings in public education.
He called on the House education committee to investigate why the state GOP’s educational reforms “have come up short.” IDOE should also report to the state legislature on how lawmakers can do more, DeLaney continued.
“I am bewildered that schools can ‘opt in’ to teacher training if there is ‘student need and school interest.’ Don’t we need to help every kid in every school? How long will serious action depend on grants and local ‘interest’?” he said in a statement Thursday. “A cynic might ask, ‘How did we get in the position where our Department of Education and school districts need to be kicked in the pants by donors before they do their job?'”
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