Indiana to invest $111M into improving early literacy, with help from the Lilly Endowment

The state of Indiana, with help from the Lilly Endowment, will be investing up to $111 million to support early literacy efforts, state leaders announced on Thursday.

Education leaders say this is the state’s largest-ever financial investment in literacy. The funds will mostly go towards expanding the deployment of instructional reading coaches to schools throughout Indiana to help students make up for the learning loss created by the pandemic.

The Lilly Endowment grant is providing up to $60 million to help the Indiana Department of Education with their goal of reaching 95% of Indiana’s students passing the IREAD-3 assessment, which tests for foundational reading skills, by 2027.

Other initiatives the funds will go to include:

  • Stipends for teachers to be trained in the science of reading.
  • Providing targeted support for students who need the most help in improving their reading skills.
  • Creating a literacy center focused on science of reading strategies.

Governor Eric Holcomb, along with Indiana’s secretary of education, Katie Jenner, made the announcement on Thursday at Eastside Elementary School in Anderson where all of their schools have opted-in to the state’s reading instructional coaching program.

Jenner told IndyStar ahead of the announcement that the investment marks a significant push by the state to do something about improving literacy after receiving the results from the most recent statewide student assessments.

“We really have to, as a state, shift from admiring the data and talking about the data to how do we solve for the problem at hand,” Jenner said.

Indiana students struggle with reading

Last week, the state released the most recent IREAD-3 results that showed nearly one in five third-grade students – or more than 14,000 Hoosier students — have not mastered foundational reading skills needed by the end of third grade.

Research shows that if students are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade, they are likely to remain poor readers throughout their life and lag in other educational markers of success like graduating on time.

Additionally, results from this year’s ILEARN assessment, the state’s standardized test for grades 3-8, showed that statewide only 41.2% of students are at or above proficiency standards for English language arts.

The state also continues to see an achievement gap with its students of color for literacy with only 64.1% of Black students and 69.6% of Latino students passing the IREAD-3 assessment while 87.5% of white students passed.

IREAD-3 2022 results:Third graders make slight gains, still not at pre-COVID levels

With this major influx of funding though, the state wants to develop the use of the science of reading, which is a research-based strategy that mostly uses phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension when teaching reading.

What will the funds be used for

In addition to the $60 million provided by the Lilly Endowment, it has also specifically made available up to $25 million to support Indiana’s colleges and universities to prepare the next generation of teachers with the science of reading practices.

The remaining $26 million will come from the state’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief II funds.

All of the funds will be used to provide science of reading-focused instructional support for educators with the help of the University of Indianapolis’ Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning and the Hunt Institute, which is a nationally recognized expert in the science of reading.

The IDOE has already rolled out a pilot program of instructional reading coaches in 54 schools across the state and now thanks to the Lilly Endowment funds plans to expand that effort to about 60% of elementary schools by the end of the 2025-2026 school year.

Schools can opt-in to the instructional coaching program based on student needs and school interests.

Stipends for current teachers who participate in professional development regarding the science of reading could also see up to $1,200 per teacher.

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Jenner told IndyStar that the best way to make sure the state succeeds in making its shift to implementing the science of reading in all its classrooms is by making sure professional development is available for teachers.

“The most important part of a child’s learning in a school is their classroom teacher,” Jenner said. “ So investing in our teachers with providing support and tools that will help them, and in addition, pay them and compensate them for their training is really important to us.”

The IDOE also plans to use funds to establish a literacy center within their department to focus on the science of reading. The center will serve as a one-stop-shop to support the state’s rollout of these programs and oversee all literacy efforts.  

Contact IndyStar reporter Caroline Beck at 317-618-5807 or CBeck@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter: @CarolineB_Indy.

Caroline is also a Report for America corps member with the GroundTruth Project, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization dedicated to supporting the next generation of journalists in the U.S. and around the world.

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