New data shows Indiana children are making strides in education, despite persisting poverty.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2014 KIDS COUNT Data Book ranks Indiana 26th nationally in education, moving the state up from 34th last year.
The rankings are based on a few components. The first is improvement in scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress, known as the “nation’s report card.” Indiana saw an 11 percent increase in the number of students below proficient in both 4th grade reading and 8th grade math.
Bill Stanczykiewicz, president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute, says the Indiana Department of Education deserves some credit for the upswing, especially in the wake of a sudden transition from the nationally crafted Common Core Standards to state-specific academic standards.
“[They have] done a wonderful job as the standards have changed with creating resource documents to help teachers find other tools and materials online that can be useful towards teaching these standards,” Stanczykiewicz says.
Despite gains, many students still lag behind academically. Nearly two-thirds of 4th graders still perform below the proficient level in reading; the same goes for 8th graders’ performance in math.
Another factor into the state’s ranking is preschool enrollment. Sixty percent of Indiana children don’t attend preschool. The Family and Social Services Administration hopes to change that statistic with the introduction of a new pre-k pilot program.
Additionally, 20 percent of high school students in Indiana do not graduate on time. Eight percent of teens are neither in school nor working, a statistic that has remained unchanged since 2008.
While he says there’s not one simple solution to improving education statewide, Stanczykiewicz points to the involvement of parents and other influential adults as key to improving student outcomes.
“One hundred percent of Indiana kids will be mentored – the question is by what, or by whom,” Stanczykiewicz says. “Having a good, talented highly engaged teacher makes a huge difference. But a quality teacher only can go so far if the child is not getting support at home. We’re hopeful that more kids receive mentors in their lives to give the support and encouragement that they need.”
The gains in academic achievement have potential to help improve an area Indiana still struggles in: child poverty. Indiana’s child poverty rate is at 22 percent, meaning nearly a quarter of Indiana’s children age 18 and under live in poverty.
Stanczykiewicz says although the reasons for poverty are many, national research confirms that academic attainment is a primary pathway out of poverty.
“These two factors are connected,” Stanczykiewicz says. “The more we can have our kids succeed academically, the more kids are going to be able to leave generational poverty and become economically self-sufficient.”