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Holcomb, DOE officials tout $111M investment in early literacy efforts

ANDERSON — In an attempt to provide context for Thursday’s announcement of more than $100 million in funding for a statewide literacy initiative, Anderson Community Schools Superintendent Dr. Joe Cronk turned to Dr. Seuss.

“The more you read, the more things you’ll know, the more that you learn, the more places you’ll go,” Cronk told an assembly of more than 400 students, faculty and staff at Eastside Elementary School on Thursday morning. “Reading, pictures in the mind, you’ll go lots of places. I truly believe each of you is destined to go to great places in the future.”

Gov. Eric Holcomb and officials from the Indiana Department of Education visited Eastside to share their thoughts on how that vision could be realized over the next five years.

Holcomb said a combined investment from the state and Lilly Endowment of up to $111 million will support early literacy development using methods aligned with the Science of Reading.

ACS is among dozens of school districts across the state that this year opted into the program, a partnership between the state and local schools to provide coaching to teachers in research-based instruction in reading or science, technology, engineering and math subjects.

“Today is about a focused effort to make sure that at the bare minimum, our third graders are proficient in reading,” Holcomb said. “It truly is, the more you know, the further you’ll go, and the more you learn, the more you’ll earn in today’s world. Today’s a big day for the state of Indiana.”

The total investment — up to $60 million from a Lilly Endowment grant and an estimated $51 million from the state — will let literacy coaches be placed in an estimated 600 elementary school statewide, according to Indiana Secretary of Education Dr. Katie Jenner.

“We know that students first learn to read, and then they read to learn,” Jenner said. “This shift typically occurs after a student’s third grade year. However, in Indiana, too many of our students are concluding third grade without foundational reading skills.

“As a state, including our schools and our community partners, we must lean in to urgently and intentionally address this challenge.”

The announcement comes a week after Indiana released standardized test results that showed one in five students lack foundational reading skills at the end of their third grade year. Those results represent a slight improvement but remain below results from before the pandemic.

With the investment, Jenner said, the state is setting a goal that, before 2027, 95% of its third graders will be reading proficiently.

“Part of reading is not only making sure you can learn other subjects, but it’s to allow you to dream big,” Jenner told the Eastside students. “Dream big about whatever you might want to do someday, however you might want to contribute, your own purpose. That’s possible when you can read.”

ACS officials said that, two weeks into the school year, they’re pleased with the early progress they’ve seen with the program’s implementation. While the five-year goal of raising reading proficiency levels is “incredible and ambitious,” according to Jenner, additional support in later years would be beneficial, they said.

“In a perfect world, we’d hope to just be able to expand (the program) beyond just K-2 and find ways to help our 3-4 teachers, even 5-6, make the Science of Reading work at their level once the foundational skills are in place,” said Kathy McCord, director of curriculum at ACS.

“It also comes down to making sure that we adequately train our classroom teachers to implement any skill that comes along, any strategy that coincides with the Science of Reading, so that it’s a common practice with what we do when we teach literacy.

This article first appeared in The Herald Bulletin on August 18, 2022.