Sen. Rodric Bray: Reading skills are fundamental to student success

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What should Indiana do to make sure students can read by grade 3?

In Indiana, educating our students and setting them up for success is our state’s top priority. Don’t believe me? Look at how we spend our money—more than $21 billion in state funding alone will be invested in our K-12 education system over the next two years. In the last three budgets, we have added more than $5.5 billion in new dollars to education.

When we send our kids to school, we have certain basic expectations—namely, that our kids will learn reading, writing and arithmetic. Unfortunately, statewide statistics show nearly one in five Hoosier third-graders aren’t passing the third-grade IREAD test. What’s worse—of those who don’t pass, over 96% of students are advancing to fourth grade, anyway.

Secretary of Education Katie Jenner is right to be sounding the alarm on this issue. As she always says, “Kids learn to read, then read to learn.” Imagine the disservice we are doing our kids by passing them along in school knowing they do not have the foundational skills to be able to continue learning like the rest of their peers. Further, low literacy rates are affiliated with higher dropout rates, lower incomes, worse health and a higher likelihood of being incarcerated.

This is unacceptable. That’s why our caucus’s highest priority—Senate Bill 1—is designed to improve students’ reading skills. State Sen. Linda Rogers, R-Granger, who is a tremendous advocate for Hoosier students, is authoring this bill. It focuses on coming alongside students early, identifying those who are struggling and giving them extra help.

SB 1 takes an all-hands-on-deck approach to this problem. First, it ensures we are using gold standard science-of-reading curriculum in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Second, it requires the IREAD assessment, which is currently administered to third-graders and tests only basic reading skills, to be administered in second grade. If a child passes IREAD in second grade, they won’t need to take it again. If a student does not pass in second grade, the bill requires schools to provide ongoing support so that, hopefully, that student will pass in third grade.

If, after at least a full year of remediation, summer school options after second and third grade, and three opportunities to take IREAD, the student has not passed the test by the end of third grade, as a last resort, the student will be retained to ensure they have the reading comprehension skills necessary to be successful in future years.

Exceptions to this retention requirement 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.

Senate Republicans have long prioritized student success, and this bill will help schools take a proactive and supportive approach by identifying and engaging with those students who need more help developing their reading skills.

I wholeheartedly believe addressing this issue is not only critical but time-sensitive for our entire state, and we are ready to get to work.•

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Bray, an attorney, is a Republican representing the 37th District in the Indiana Senate and President Pro Tempore. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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