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'It's a big problem'; Indiana school districts look toward more reading resources

Reading and ELA scores have gone down since the pandemic hit. A statewide program is trying to address that.
Credit: WHAS11
An "A+" sign outside of Northaven Elementary School in Jeffersonville. Greater Clark County third graders scored lower than the state average on the reading comprehension ILEARN test.

JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. — Indiana students have been scoring lower on their basic reading and reading comprehension scores since the pandemic began.

The dip prompted the Department of Education, along with a large donation from the Lilly Endowment, to invest in a more technical approach to reading. 

With a total $111 million dollar investment, the state is expanding a program based around the "Science of Reading" from 54 to 600 schools in the near future.

"Parents are concerned, they want to get their children help," Abby Klein said, a mother of two young kids and a tutor of kids with special needs in Sellersburg.

The Science of Reading first became popular about 20 years ago. Tens of thousands of studies have been done on the topic but here are a few key common themes:

  • Reading comprehension (RC) is the product of decoding (D) and language comprehension (LC), or RC = D x LC
  • Phonological awareness: Teach students to recognize and manipulate the sounds within words. Move from syllables to the individual sounds, or phonemes. 
  • Fluency: Include frequent chances for students to read and re-read orally from connected text—sentences, paragraphs, and passages. Focus on the development of both automatic word recognition and fluent expression.

"If you don't have those foundational reading skills that come out of that word recognition, which is really where we focus in those early grades, then kids are not going to be successful readers," Kimberly Hartlage, deputy superintendent of Greater Clark County Schools, said.

In the statewide "IREAD 3" exam, which is a basic reading comprehension test given to third graders, GCCS had an 82.1% pass rate in 2022. That was slightly above the state average of 81.6%.

In 2019, GCCS had a pass rate of 89%

For the more robust ILEARN exam, 37% of GCCS students scored proficient this year. That number was 46% in 2019.

"It's a big problem, but we feel like we're moving in the right directions," Hartlage said.

This expansion program will be an opt-in program, where schools with the lowest test scores will get the first offer. GCCS officials do not know yet if they will be invited, but Hartlage says they are hoping so.

Hartlage says they are already using the Science of Reading, but more money towards implementing it would be helpful.

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