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Reading bill advances despite retention concerns

Lawmakers advance reading proficiency bill

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Parents and educators on Wednesday told lawmakers if they insist on holding back students, they should provide more exceptions and flexibility.

Although the retention issue accounts for only a portion of the reading proficiency bill, it has driven by far the overwhelming majority of the discussion since Republican legislative leaders first floated the idea in November. Nearly everyone who testified on the bill before the House Education Committee on Wednesday said they like the bill’s reading interventions but have varying levels of concern about its mandate that students be held back a year if they fail the IREAD test three times.

As it currently stands, the bill would require students to take the IREAD test in second grade instead of third grade, with the test rewritten to a second-grade reading level. Students who fail the test would have to either enroll in summer school or take part in individual reading instruction, after which they would take the test in the spring of their third-grade year. If they failed a second time, students would take summer school one more time and take the test at the end of summer. They would be held back if they failed the test three times.

Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill to give parents a greater role in the retention discussion and eliminate mandatory retention.

“I don’t like the fact that these tough decisions have to be made, but, ultimately, I don’t think the state is the one to make those decisions,” he said. “If you’ve given a parent all the notice that this bill requires and the kid’s not there academically, I think the parent has got to be able to say, in consultation with the school, that my child has to move forward.”

After committee members voted down DeLaney’s proposal, parents and teachers alike told the committee they supported the bill’s many reading intervention requirements, but they believed there should be more exceptions to the retention requirement. MaryAnn Schlegel Ruegger said her daughter struggled in school because she had ADHD, a condition that qualifies for some types of additional educational support but not the individualized educational programs provided for students with significant intellectual disabilities.

The bill currently exempts students with IEPs. Jennifer Black, a mother and wellness coach, said lawmakers should delay the implementation of the retention requirement until the 2025-2026 school year to allow students and teachers more time to catch up and to begin implementing the Science of Reading requirements lawmakers put in place last year.

For her part, bill author Sen. Linda Rogers, R-Granger, said the retention provision is a last resort and the bill’s many interventions make it unlikely a student will get to that point in the first place.

“To send these kids on through school without the ability to read sets them up to struggle throughout the rest of their education and, often, for the rest of their life,” she said.

The bill passed the committee. DeLaney said he plans to offer an amendment on the House floor to delay the retention provision by one year.