Indiana Department of Education has presented statewide data showing that thousands of Indiana students are advancing to fourth grade each year without foundational reading skills.

In 2023, 81.9% of Hoosier third graders showed proficiency on the IREAD-3 test.

“First students learn to read, and then they read to learn,” said Katie Jenner, Indiana Secretary of Education, in a Dec. 5 news release. “Today data show that one in five Indiana students have not mastered foundational reading skills by the end of third grade, and most of these same students are advancing to fourth grade unable to read. As a result, these students often struggle to master future learning and may not graduate.

“We must continue to work together — as educators, parents and families and policymakers — to utilize our data, align our resources and urgently identify additional solutions that ensure every Indiana child learns to read before leaving third grade,” Jenner said.

Centerville-Abington Community Schools Superintendent Mike McCoy said the district has instituted numerous interventions over the last couple of years, especially at Rose Hamilton Elementary, and they plan to continue adjusting as they implement the state-required Science of Reading curriculum.

A few examples: For the past two years, the state has been training Mika Frame as CACS’ K-2 literacy coach, who then offers internal professional development for all teachers. This year, CACS helped local Head Start staff learn about a phonemic awareness curriculum to help prepare kids for kindergarten.

CACS also has restructured its interventions for grades K-2, and beginning in third grade, students at risk for not passing IREAD-3 receive 90 minutes of daily immersion in language arts/reading instruction and practice.

Data at a glance

Key takeaways from the data presented to State Board of Education include:

  • Indiana’s literacy rates have been dropping for a decade, well before the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • While third-grade enrollment has declined since 2012, the number of students who do not pass has more than doubled.
  • As reading scores have decreased, retention rates have also decreased, causing thousands of students to enter fourth grade unable to read.
  • Data show that over 96% of students who did not pass IREAD-3 were advanced to fourth grade.
  • Of the approximately 14,000 students who did not pass IREAD-3 in 2023, more than 5,500 received a Good Cause Exemption (GCE). Some have an Individualized Education Program while others are English learners or were retained in third grade twice.
  • Of the 8,337 students who did not pass and did not receive a GCE, 7,925 (95%) of those students still advanced to fourth grade.
  • Without future IREAD-3 data for students who did not pass, it is unclear at the state level if they ever learn to read. However, other data points suggest most continue to struggle.

Students who do not achieve proficiency on IREAD-3 experience ongoing difficulties with text complexity, engagement with research components and writing skills.

Data indicate that students receiving GCEs consequently demonstrate lower proficiency on subsequent ILEARN assessments.

Overall, students who do not pass IREAD-3 are at risk of not achieving proficiency on future assessments, including ILEARN, and are less likely to graduate.

A recent third-party study, “Holding Back to Move Forward: The Effects of Retention in the Third Grade on Student Outcomes,” also shows that in Indiana from 2011-2012 and 2016-2017, third-grade retention increased achievement in English/language arts and math immediately and substantially, and the positive effects persist into middle school.

Being retained did not have a negative effect on student attendance or disciplinary incidents in later grades, the study showed.

This data is the focus of a new data visualization tool, which soon will be available to the public and provide useful information to support educators, parents and families and community leaders in ensuring all Indiana students can read.

For more information, including a PDF of the presentation made to state officials, visit

Resources for families

  • Students in grades 3-8 who scored below proficiency on English/language arts or math on their 2023 ILEARN testing and qualify for free or reduced lunches can join Indiana Learns. It provides additional learning support and tutoring at no cost. All eligible students can now access $1,000 in grant funds. Full details are available at
  • Parents may join the new Parent and Family Support Hub on the Indiana Learning Lab, providing free, 24/7 access to resources to support student learning at
  • The Reading Academy, a program of Wayne County’s nonprofit Every Child Can Read, offers free summer instruction to struggling readers in grades 2-3. Visit or call 765-966-READ.
  • Local after-school youth organizations such as Boys & Girls Clubs of Wayne County, Townsend Community Center Inc. and Girls Inc. offer homework help. Contact those organizations directly.
  • Families are encouraged to read with their student daily.
  • Check with local schools and libraries about their offerings. A free online peer-to-peer tutoring resource is
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A version of this article appeared in the December 13 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Millicent Martin Emery is a reporter and editor for the Western Wayne News.