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Lawmakers propose holding back thousands of students to solve low reading scores

A student reads a yellow-paged storybook while sitting at a table.
Lawmakers are considering a bill that would retain most third grade students who fail a state reading test.

Thousands of Indiana students could be held back in third grade if they don't pass a reading test. Indiana lawmakers will hear a proposal this week to mandate students repeat third grade if they do not pass the state’s reading skills exam.

Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) said reading is a key issue in this year’s legislative session.

“I think it's a strong case to make that this is something we have to get right by the time the kids are in third grade,” he said.

This year’s legislation is part of the state goal of reaching 95 percent reading proficiency for all third graders by 2027. Recent statewide data found nearly one in five third graders move on to fourth grade without foundational reading skills.

Senate Bill 1 requires schools to administer the state’s third grade reading assessment to students in second grade. Some schools must also give literacy tests to younger students who are not on track to reach reading proficiency by third grade. Students who are not proficient will repeat third grade.

“From K through third grade, you learn to read. After that, you read to learn,” Bray said. “And if you don't have that ability to read, once you've moved on from third grade into fourth grade, learning becomes particularly difficult.”

There are some exemptions for students who do not pass the assessment to still move on to fourth grade.

Those exemptions include students who are English language learners, have already been held back in third grade, have intellectual disabilities, or who received a proficient or above proficient score in third grade math on the statewide assessment.

Data from the IDOE shows the number of students who do not receive exemptions after failing the test has grown disproportionately compared to the number of students who do receive exemptions.

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The bill also requires some schools to offer summer school courses for students who are not able to read or are at risk of falling behind in reading.

This year is not a budget year, but Gov. Eric Holcomb said there is enough money to fund those summer school programs without allocating additional funding.

“The budgets that we have passed recently, including this one this past year, allow for this,” he said.

The Senate Education Career and Development Committee is scheduled to hear the bill Wednesday afternoon.

Kirsten is our education reporter. Contact her at or follow her on Twitter at @kirsten_adair.

Kirsten the Indiana Public Broadcasting education reporter. Contact her at or follow her on Twitter at @kirsten_adair.