Sen. Luke Kenley has affirmed that Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett and the Indiana State Board of Education went beyond the bounds of state law when they adopted a rule that requires third-graders to pass a reading test or face grade-level retention.
“I would just put the Department of Education and the State Board on notice that they’re clearly not in line with the words in the statute so they’re opening themselves up perhaps to a lawsuit or a complaint by somebody on those grounds,” the Noblesville Republican tells NPR’s StateImpact Indiana.
Kenley’s words echo what Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, told School Matters last month: that Bennett and the state board “essentially usurped” what lawmakers put in the 2010 legislation that called for ensuring children develop strong reading skills.
Both Kenley and Porter were members of the House-Senate conference committee that agreed to a compromise version of the bill, so if anyone knows what it was supposed to mean, they should. Kenley’s words could arguably carry even more weight because, like Bennett, he is a Republican, a member of the party that controls both the House and Senate.
And not just any Republican. He chairs the powerful Appropriations Committee as well as serving on the Education and Career Development Committee. By virtue of the latter appointment, he’s also part of the Select Commission on Education that the legislature created to review policies adopted by the state board and the Indiana Department of Education.
StateImpact’s Kyle Stokes provides a clear and thorough explanation of the difference between the state law and the reading rule that the board adopted to carry out the law.
The law says the department should develop a plan to improve early reading skills, with remedial action called for if kids can’t read, “including retention as a last resort, after other methods of remediation have been evaluated or used, or both.” Kenley says lawmakers had a detailed discussion of retention and agreed to make a forceful statement in favor of early reading “but not an absolute statement that if you can’t pass one specific test, you can’t be promoted …”
The State Board of Education rule says students who don’t pass the reading test, called IREAD-3, will be retained, at least in reading, unless they meet exceptions as special-needs students or non-English speakers or if they’ve already been held back twice. The DOE says students who fail the test don’t necessarily have to repeat all third-grade subjects. But they will be required to retake IREAD-3 as well as third-grade ISTEP English and math tests the following year. So in practice, most students who fail IREAD-3 will repeat third grade.
IREAD-3 was given for the first time in March. Schools have received their students’ scores, and a state announcement of passing rates is expected this month.