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Third grade reading bill nears governor’s desk, despite concerns from some lawmakers

By Kirsten Adair, IPB News | Published on in Education, Government, Politics
Last year around 96 percent of students who did not pass IREAD-3, the state reading assessment, advanced to fourth grade, according to state data. (FILE PHOTO: Jeanie Lindsay/IPB News)

A controversial bill that would hold back some students who fail the state’s reading proficiency exam is nearing the governor’s desk.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle praised Senate Bill 1’s provisions to test and screen students earlier and prioritize reading during summer school.

But Democrats like Rep. Phil GiaQuinta (D-Fort Wayne) criticized the bill for not allocating additional money for the summer programs and failing to address how larger class sizes in third grade might affect school staffing needs.

“I just can’t stomach the idea of saddling our schools with an unfunded summer school mandate, holding kids back without their parent’s input and the teacher workload problems that will result from this,” he said.

Last year around 96 percent of students who did not pass IREAD-3, the state reading assessment, advanced to fourth grade, according to state data. Nearly 1 in 5 Indiana third graders failed the reading test last year.

Proposals to push mandatory retention back by a year were defeated in both chambers.

READ MORE: House passes companion literacy bill to identify struggling readers in fourth through eighth grade

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Rep. Cherrish Pryor (D-Indianapolis) and others who oppose holding kids back said it has negative social and emotional effects, especially for students of color. Pryor would rather lawmakers create universal preschool.

“The best way for us to do that is to have something in place from the beginning for that child and not wait until the third grade and then say we’re going to hold them back,” she said.

The bill’s proponents argue students who advance to fourth grade without essential literacy skills may never be able to read successfully and will struggle for the rest of their lives. They said retention is the best way to keep students from falling between the cracks.

The proposal to retain third graders includes some exemptions if the student is an English language learner or has an intellectual disability. Additional exemptions were added for students who test well in math or have already been held back once in third grade or twice between kindergarten and second grade.

The measure now goes back to the Senate. It can either send the current version on to the governor or take it to a conference committee for further work.

Kirsten is our education reporter. Contact her at kadair@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @kirsten_adair.