Beginning in March 2012, state education officials began administering a 40-question, 72-minute reading skills exam — the IREAD-3 — to all Indiana third graders. This test is the principal tool officials are using to implement a statewide policy emphasizing the importance of developing reading skills in the early grades.
Every third grader has two chances to pass the high-stakes exam. Students who don’t pass on their first try in March will be given the chance to pass a retake in June or July after a period of intensive remediation.
Third graders who don’t pass after two attempts will have to retake third grade versions of the ISTEP and IREAD exams the following school year, which state officials say will likely lead to them being held back from entering fourth grade.
The exam originated in school finance language tucked into House Enrolled Act 1367 in 2010. The Indiana General Assembly unanimously passed the measure, which called on state education officials to craft robust reading standards for Indiana students. The measure called for creating a means for the state to make “determinant evaluations” of whether students are meeting the new standards.
State Senators Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, and Earline Rogers, D-Gary; along with Representatives Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, and Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis settled on language calling for holding students back “as a last resort.” It also, though, was crafted to emphasize the importance of developing reading skills by third grade — at which point students transition from ‘learning to read’ to ‘reading to learn.’
The executive branch decides how legislative actions get put into practice. In this case, the law empowered the State Board of Education — an executive panel, chaired by state superintendent Tony Bennett, whose members are gubernatorially-appointed — to decide how to implement the law. Here’s the key portion of the rule they adopted:
Beginning with the 2012–2013 school year, retention of a student in grade 3 if the student does not achieve a passing score on the IREAD-3 assessment during the previous school year or during a subsequent attempt at passing IREAD-3.
Many educators dispute that struggling students will do any better getting back up to speed in a third grade classroom than in a fourth grade classroom. Retention doesn’t work and studies prove it, they say. But supporters of the state’s third grade reading policy say other research shows students who leave third grade behind in reading likely won’t ever catch up and are much more likely to drop out.