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Indiana lawmakers eye reading skills, work-based learning as key priorities

A young girl sits at a table in a school library, reading a book.
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Lawmakers will review legislation to boost third grade reading scores during this year's short legislative session.

Lawmakers shared more detailed plans this week about their education goals for the upcoming legislative session. The discussions revealed divisions on how to address topics like work-based learning, low third grade reading scores and early education.

The state’s IREAD-3 data shows that one in five third graders lack foundational reading skills after they reach third grade. Most of those students are sent to fourth grade the next year.

Some state lawmakers say schools should retain more third graders who can’t read. Rep. Ed DeLaney (D-Indianapolis) said that decision should be left to schools and parents.

“I don't think it's our job to help decide which kids should be promoted or not,” he said. “Kids vary so much. The parents and the school officials have got to make that decision.”

Sen. Jeff Raatz (R-Richmond) said retaining third graders who can’t read makes sense.

“I don't want to do that any more than anybody else, but there's a consequence,” he said.

Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) said missing out on foundational reading skills can set kids back in life and impact their success well past high school. He said lawmakers intend to address the high number of students that move on to fourth grade without those foundational reading skills.

“There are challenges that the child faces when he or she moves on after third grade and doesn't know how to read and continues to struggle and even get into high school,” he said. "You'll see us work in that space and primarily try to narrow some of those exceptions that allow a child to get moved from to fourth grade before passing IREAD.”

Lawmakers also discussed the future of a new sweeping education bill that expanded work-based learning by connecting students and businesses.

READ MORE: Indiana Department of Education previews new tool to measure reading progress

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Bray said work-based learning should continue to be a priority because it helps students who join the workforce right after graduation. He added that working while still in high school teaches those students what types of jobs they like and smooths the transition from high school to the workforce.

“You can gradually work yourself into the workforce instead of just jumping off a cliff and suddenly you're in the deep end of the ocean,” he said.

Sen. Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) said he wants to see more results from recent work-based learning legislation before expanding it.

“We've put forward these standards that we want schools to teach to our children, but we haven't let them implement things to see how far we're going to go,” he said. “It’s time to take a pause and kind of sit back and let these things take place.”

There was also debate about the pitfalls and benefits of mandating pre-K programs and having children start school by the age of 5.

Taylor is in favor of lowering the age kids are required to go to school from 7 to 5. He said students who start school when they are seven years old start out behind and are in greater danger of failing the IREAD-3 in third grade.

“That's a simple rule change that I've proposed for the last six years,” he said. “We just sit back and say, hey, you don't have to send your child to school until 7. We need to change that.”

Kirsten is our education reporter. Contact her at kadair@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @kirsten_adair.
Copyright 2023 IPB News. To see more, visit .

Kirsten Adair