Indiana lawmakers are supporting a bill to require Science of Reading (SoR) curricula in all the state’s schools, following the example of neighboring Ohio, where Gov. Mike DeWine has proposed spending $162 million to require Science of Reading to be adopted in every school district.
“I think (the bill) is purposely aggressive because we’re in the middle of a crisis and we don’t have time to wait,”, commented Rep. Jake Teshka, (R-South Bend).
Recent proposals have culminated in House Bill 1558, authored by Rep. Jake Teshka, R-South Bend, which creates its own definition of the Science of Reading in state law and requires schools to adopt such curriculum. It also creates a Science of Reading grant fund and includes teacher preparation and licensing requirements for the approach.
“The future is bleak for kids who can’t read,” Teshka said last month in the Senate education committee. The bill previously passed the House 91-0.
“When you look at the long-term outcomes of underperforming, as it comes to reading, you look at things like the average enrollee in the Indiana Department of Corrections only reading at a sixth grade level,” he continued. “You look at the fact that students who struggle with literacy drop out of school at exponentially higher rates, which leads to worse public health outcomes, with more strain on our economy.”
The measure requires that starting in the 2024-2025 school year, the State Board of Education and Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) would be required to adopt academic standards for reading that are based on the science of reading.
The bill also requires teachers to show proficiency in science of reading instruction and to obtain a science of reading certification in order to be licensed to teach in an elementary school. Currently, school districts across the state can decide which core reading program to use. The bill attempts to define the science of reading as the successful integration of research-backed concepts such as phonics, vocabulary instruction, and reading comprehension.
Trained literacy coaches would specifically be tasked with helping teachers at schools to get kids up to par for the IREAD exam.
Last August, Indiana announced a $111 million investment in literacy through a partnership with the Lilly Endowment — the state’s largest-ever financial investment in literacy.
The funding is intended to support science of reading training for teachers, as well as incorporating science of reading methods into undergraduate teacher preparation programs.
IDOE also launched a partnership to place reading coaches in schools across the state to support K-2 teachers as they put science of reading instruction to use.
Already, more than four dozen schools across the state have piloted Science of Reading instructional coaching, according to the education department. IDOE expects to expand the optional trainings to 60% of Indiana elementary schools by the end of the 2025-2026 school year.
However, some critics argue that the science of reading method doesn’t do enough to provoke the kind of thinking that enables deep comprehension in realistic reading situations. “We must teach comprehension as a multidimensional experience,” wrote educators Jessica Hahn and Mia Hood in Education Week. “
Indiana has recorded a declining literacy rate since 2013, which was accentuated by the pandemic. Only 81.6% out of the 65,000 third graders at public and private schools in Indiana passed the 2022 exam. The state education department’s goal is that 95% of students in third grade can read proficiently by 2027.
Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis has insisted on making SoR mandatory in all schools, “Our teachers are doing everything they can. They’ve just been given the wrong product to teach our kids. It’s time the state adopts what is called the science of reading.”
The measure would prohibit schools from using the three-cueing model. “We got off the track. We got off sounding words out. We got out of phonics. We got out of breaking words down, knowing how to sound those words out. And we started doing something else. We started guessing,” Freeman said of three-cueing. “The most important thing we’re going to do is teach kids to read, and we need to give them the appropriate tools to do it.”
Sen. Andrea Hunley, D-Indianapolis, a former school principal, emphasized that state schools should be better-funded, overall, before adding new literacy requirements, while the Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA) said they also support statewide science of reading requirements, as long as schools have the money to make it happen and credentialing for teachers is clarified.
The legislation is now under consideration in the Senate Appropriations Committee.