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The Indiana Daily Student

city politics education bloomington

Monroe County third graders may face retention under new Indiana Senate bill

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Concerns about third -grade literacy have led to Indiana Senate Bill 1, which would hold back third graders who do not pass literacy assessments or meet a “good cause” exception.  

Students across the state could face retention, including those in Monroe County.  

In 2023, the Monroe County Community School Corporation’s average pass rate for IREAD-3, the statewide literacy assessment, was 82.6%, according to the Department of Education’s EdData database. That’s 121 students out of 735 failing to pass; out of those, 48 did not receive an exemption, and 44 were promoted to fourth grade regardless. All 48 would be retained under the new legislation. 

MCCSC’s lowest-scoring school is Arlington Heights Elementary. 51 students took IREAD-3 and 21 did not pass — a pass rate of 56.6%. All nine students who did not receive a good cause exemption, were promoted to fourth grade regardless.  

The second lowest-scoring school, Highland Park Elementary, saw 23 of 33 students (69.7%) pass. These students were promoted, even without receiving an exception. 

Whether to retain students or not is a complicated and often controversial question. 

Concern over elementary reading skill has become a national issue, pressuring states to change policies and adapt curricula to address literacy issues.  

Highland Park principal Cassidy Rockhill said he feels retention is rarely the right answer. From his perspective, if students need extra assistance, teaching them the same third-grade skills won’t help.  

“Retention is a very complex issue,” Rockhill said. “That needs to be a conversation between the school and the family.” 

At Highland Park, kindergarten through second grade students learn to read by focusing on foundational skills like phonics, phonics awareness and listening comprehension. They also have fluid groups, where kids are split up differently to focus on skills they need extra help with. 

It’s in this fluid group time, nicknamed “Panda Time” at Highland after their mascot, students who were promoted without passing IREAD-3 receive third grade-level reading remediation. 

Different studies have different answers about whether retention helps or hurts students. Some, including a study of Florida public schools from 2017, say it gives kids an immediate boost that fades as they progress through school. Other experts say it’s more ambiguous. 

Keri Miksza, MCCSC parent and Indiana Coalition for Public Education chair, said she does not think retention is something to “double down on” at the state level, when it should be a discussion. There are other complications, she said. Because it is not a year where budget considerations can be made, they can’t rely on state funding for programs like summer school or to balance out the costs of extra years of school for retained students.  

Also, a bill passed last year changed how reading must be taught. Curriculum now must follow the “science of reading” model, which focuses more on phonetics, vocabulary and comprehension. But schools haven’t had time to see the results or train teachers, and now SB 1 might change those results. 

“Legislators need to slow the roll on this, because it’s children,” Miksza said.  

Senate Bill 1 passed the appropriations committee in its meeting at 9 a.m, Thursday.

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