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Indiana’s Secretary of Education discusses State of the State literacy proposals

Education proposals in the State of the State

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb delivered the 2024 State of the State address Tuesday night in front of a joint session of the General Assembly.

It was his final State of the State address as governor, and amid several proposals, he pushed improving childcare access and education outcomes.

Indiana’s Secretary of Education Dr. Katie Jenner joined News 8 at DayBreak to discuss the proposals and Holcomb’s education priorities. 

“In Indiana, we’ve actually been in a reading decline for our students for about a decade,” Jenner told News 8. “COVID further exacerbated that. So, now is the time we have to move, we need to make sure all children are able to read by the end of third grade.”

Jenner says the pandemic hurt reading growth, but the downward trajectory was already in process before COVID-19.

“If we look longitudinally back 10 years ago, we see that over 90% of our students were reading. I think the highest was 91.4%. Today, we’re at 81.9%, and that drop was happening before the pandemic. And then this just exacerbated it,” she added.

Jenner says that the plan isn’t to add new assessments, but to better leverage them. “In kindergarten and first grade, students are already tested for things like dyslexia. So, let’s use that data. The benefit for all students to understand some specific reading skills and then help triage and intervene with those students as early as possible.”

An Indiana Department of Education report from last year showed nearly 1 in 5 Indiana third graders can’t read at grade level. This sparked calls for action among lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Before lawmakers started the 2024 legislative session, Holcomb unveiled his plan to reverse Indiana’s poor reading proficiency scores. He said lawmakers should require IREAD assessments in second grade instead of third grade to catch reading problems earlier.

Jenner says moving the IREAD test to the second grade is very popular with both parents and teachers.

“It’s nothing punitive, but (it’s) just to give the parent and the teacher a sense of, ‘Is the child on track for reading? Is the child at risk (for) maybe not being able to read?’ Again, (it’s) all about that proactive approach and those interventions early. Finding it early, assessing it early,” Jenner said.

By 2025, new teachers in Indiana will be required to demonstrate their proficiency in the science of reading. It is a term for a wide body of research that emphasizes phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, and phonemic awareness in reading instruction. 

“We’re doing everything we can to make sure our teachers have that science of reading training and support, which is so important. And then also the value of the parent or family member or guardian read to your child, make sure they have access to books. It’s going to take all of us working together to get there for kids,” Jenner said.

Governor Holcomb said on Monday that fixing Indiana’s reading proficiency shortcomings is critical to the state’s long-term success, and with any education bill, there’s often “robust” discussion.

“Last session, we really focused on a lot of support for our teachers, making sure they have that science of reading training access. This year, we’re really supporting student intervention, making sure we’re intervening as early as possible. With any bill that comes across the State House, there’s often a robust discussion. We are eager to have that about the topic of reading. Our state needs that, and every single child in Indiana, we have to make sure they’re reading by the end of third grade,” Jenner said.

On Tuesday during the State of the State address, the governor specifically asked lawmakers to require computer science courses for high school graduation by the end of the decade and require public universities to investigate turning at least some of their bachelor’s degrees into three-year programs.

Over the past few years, lawmakers have tried to deal with the issue of teacher pay, and teacher retention. News 8 asked Jenner if the state is doing enough to support teachers and what more could be done.

“I’m absolutely an advocate that we have to continue to increase teacher compensation in Indiana,” she said. “The work teachers do day in and day out is incredible. We have to keep our eye on that ball. Governor Holcomb has really put that top-of-mind focus, setting a goal for the average teacher pay to be $60,000. I hope we continue to push that number even after Governor Holcomb moves on and we have another governor in – (I hope we grow) from here.”

Watch the full interview above to hear more.