Indiana third graders struggling to learn foundations of reading

Photo by Suad Kamardeen

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- On Tuesday (Dec. 5) the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) presented data to the State Board of Education (SBOE) that shows many third graders from across the state are advancing to fourth grade without the proper foundational reading skills.

This past August the results of the Indiana Reading Evaluation and Determination (IREAD-3) test were released showing that nearly one in five Hoosier students struggle to read by the end of third grade.

According to the IDOE, statewide results show that more than 65,000 third grade students in Indiana – or 81.9 percent – demonstrated proficient reading skills.

"Indiana's third grade literacy rates have been dropping for a decade, even prior to the academic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic," said IDOE Senior Communications Specialist Molly Williams. "Overall, results remain 9.5 percentage points below the state’s highest-ever proficiency rate (91.4 percent) during the 2012-2013 school year."

The IDOE hopes that Tuesday's presentation of the data will provide useful information to parents, families, and educators to help them understand where students are today and ensure that all Indiana students learn to read properly.

“First students learn to read, and then they read to learn,” said Dr. Katie Jenner, Indiana Secretary of Education. “Today's 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 data presented to the SBOE today can be accessed here. Interested parties can learn more about additional literacy support available to Indiana schools here.

KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM DATA PRESENTED TO SBOE:

  • 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 requirements after 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 indicates 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.
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