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Indiana Statehouse

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STATEHOUSE — A bill aiming to help students struggling to read in Indiana has been getting its first rounds of discussion as those for and against the bill weigh in.

The bill would clamp down on students struggling to read by having 2nd-grade students take the IREAD exam and if they fail it then, they would have three chances to pass it during 3rd grade. If they still don’t pass the exam then they would be held back, or “retained.”

Indiana’s Secretary of Education Dr. Katie Jenner is simply happy the bill is being discussed as she says reading ability among Indiana’s elementary school students is at a critical low. Her department says 1 in 5 Hoosier third graders can read at grade level.

“We’re here for solutions,” Jenner said to lawmakers in a State Senate committee hearing on Wednesday. “14,000 is unacceptable. 14,000 kids whose lives will be significantly changed if they are not reading by the end of third grade. We know that. We have to do something about it.”

Some education experts like Dr. Vince Edwards, who is a principal at an elementary school in Fortville spoke with some skepticism of the bill as written. He spoke of the other impacts of holding back students.

“I would say retention just does not have the same type of founding as most of the other options that have been mentioned,” said Edwards. “There is a 60-year body of research around retention that has shown lots of negative impacts, especially social and emotional.”

State Sen. Linda Rodgers, who authored the bill, told fellow senators on Wednesday that the bill “is not a retention bill.” She added that the retention aspect of the bill is a “last resort” for students who are struggling to read at grade level.

Rachel Burke, who is the president of the Indiana PTA, said had the bill been implemented when her now high school-age daughter was younger it would have significantly hurt her progress given her struggles with special needs related to a rare form of epilepsy

“She is now fourth in her class out of 820 students,” Burke said. “She has won statewide academic competitions and was the top Latin student in the state last year. She was not retained. This bill, as written, would have harmed her.”

The bill passed out of committee without any changes on a party-line vote on Wednesday. It will now need a once-over from the full State Senate before Indiana house lawmakers can take a look at it.