New data tool shows where Indiana students are struggling with literacy

By Casey Smith
Indiana Capital Chronicle

INDIANAPOLIS — As debate heats up among Indiana policymakers over how to address Indiana’s literacy “crisis,” a new statewide dashboard gives a more detailed look at where additional reading supports are needed most.

The Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) on Tuesday released its newly-developed data visualization tool, which allows the public to view IREAD and literacy data at both the state and school levels.

State education officials said the new tool will help teachers, parents and policymakers as they undertake new literacy initiatives.

Specific data in the dashboard includes the number of students who:

  • Are able to read by the end of third grade
  • Aren’t able to read by the end of third grade
  • Advanced to fourth grade without foundational reading skills
  • Earned a “good cause exemption” (GCE), which allow students to move onto fourth grade in certain circumstances — even though they have not passed the IREAD exam
  • Are proficient in math (passed ILEARN Math in third grade), but are not proficient in reading (did not pass IREAD-3)

The new tool also provides a longitudinal heat map of Indiana that shows — by corporation and individual schools — the percentage of students advancing to fourth grade who are unable to read at grade level.

“In the history of our state, we have never had this level of partnership and support for advancing literacy,” said Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner in a statement. “This historic collaboration implores us all to seize the moment and determine key solutions in order to urgently move the needle for students.”

Although data in the dashboard is not new, the statistics double down on Indiana’s struggling literacy landscape.

Hoosier literacy rates have been declining for a decade, well before the pandemic. Since 2012, the number of students who are not able to read at the end of third grade has more than doubled.

According to data from the Indiana Department of Education, in 2023, one in five Hoosier third graders lacked foundational reading skills. But as reading scores have decreased, retention rates have also decreased, meaning thousands of students who were unable to read still advanced to fourth grade, according to IDOE officials.

Test data showed 13,840 third-graders did not pass I-READ-3. Of those, 5,503 received an exemption and 8,337 did not. Of those without an exemption, 95% moved onto 3rd grade while only 412 were retained.

Currently, exemptions are available to students in special education, certain English language learners and students who have already been retained twice or more.

IDOE’s new data visualization tool indicates that schools in and around Indianapolis, Gary, South Bend and Seymour had some of the highest rates of third graders being promoted to fourth grade without IREAD mastery. Schools in those areas additionally recorded some of the lowest overall IREAD pass rates.

Of the students who did not pass IREAD-3 in 2023:

  • Approximately 72% were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch
  • Approximately 45% were in special education (67% received an exemption)
  • Approximately 43% were white
  • Approximately 25% were Hispanic
  • Approximately 24% were Black
  • Approximately 20% were English learners (66% received an exemption)
  • Approximately 56% were male and 44% were female

Additional dashboard data on IREAD and retention shows that in 2023:

  • 3.1% of students who were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch were retained out of the 9,978 students eligible who did not pass
  • 1% of students in special education were retained out of the 6,273 students in special education who did not pass
  • 3.1% of white students were retained out of the 5,921 white students who did not pass
  • 1.8% of Hispanic students were retained out of the 3,405 Hispanic students who did not pass
  • 3.9% of Black students were retained out of the 3,311 Black students who did not pass
  • 1% of English learners were retained out of the 2,819 English learner students who did not pass
  • 2.6% of male students (were retained out of the 7,735 male students who did not pass, and 3.4% of female students were retained out of the 6,120 female students who did not pass

Jenner and Gov. Eric Holcomb said their goal is that 95% of students in third grade can read proficiently by 2027.

The governor’s 2024 agenda targets earlier access to IREAD testing and ensuring Hoosier students are mastering foundational literacy skills. His reading plan — similar to what has been proposed by Republican legislative leaders — could result in holding thousands more third-graders back a year in school.

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The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to giving Hoosiers a comprehensive look inside state government, policy and elections. The site combines daily coverage with in-depth scrutiny, political awareness and insightful commentary.

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