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Updated guidelines on the new literacy training obligation in response to Indiana teachers’ concerns

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Indianapolis, Indiana – The General Assembly earlier this year established a new literacy licensing requirement, but state officials have now released fresh instructions on it that allows for more “flexibility” in response to strong opposition from Indiana educators.

However, many educators still have concerns, and some are still completely against the new need for professional development.

In a statement to educators on Friday, Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner stated that the state’s education department has added and adjusted training choices as a result of teachers’ feedback.
Additionally, some teachers have been released from the licensure requirements, provided that they continue to teach literacy to kids who are older than the fifth grade.

“I’m grateful for the collective effort to balance the urgent need to overcome Indiana’s literacy crisis with our shared desire to increase flexibility for educators,” Jenner said in her weekly education newsletter.

The revised guidelines “is a testament to the importance of educator advocacy,” according to the Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA), which praised Jenner for “acknowledging the extensive requirements of the new literacy endorsement.”

Earlier this month, the largest teachers union in the state, together with several dozen of its members, criticized the “unfair” and “overwhelming” 80-hour training program for more than four hours in front of the State Board of Education. Many begged for the professional development course to be dropped as a requirement entirely or to provide teachers more options for completing it.

Jenner and other state education officials have insisted on time and time again that the requirement cannot be completely eliminated since it is a legislatively mandated requirement.

“The adjustments to these requirements reflect the voices and concerns of educators across Indiana,” ISTA president Keith Gambill said in a statement, adding that the union “will continue to advocate for further changes and increased flexibility.”

All Pre-K through sixth-grade special education instructors must complete 80 hours of professional development on science of reading concepts and pass a written exam as part of the training requirement. Without doing this, teachers won’t be allowed to renew their license.

In an attempt to improve the weak reading scores among Hoosier kids, state legislators adopted the literacy training requirement during the 2024 legislative session.

For almost a decade, Indiana’s reading scores have been declining. Data from the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) show that in 2023, one in five third graders in Indiana did not have a foundational reading proficiency.

As per the legislation, educators who wish to renew their licenses after July 1, 2027, must possess a “Early Literacy Endorsement.” Through 2025, they can accomplish this through the free professional development program offered by a third party, Keys to Literacy. Teachers who complete the 80-hour Keys to Literacy training program are eligible for a $1,200 stipend, and the state will pay for the PRAXIS exam.

If a new teacher is getting their license for the first time, they will require the endorsement starting next summer.

However, instructors made it clear to state officials that just a small number of free training courses remain, and that teachers would have to pay for them out of pocket.

12,000 instructors signed up for the three-week Keys to Literacy training, according to Jenner’s statement earlier this month. In response to these previous complaints, IDOE declared on May 8 that the state is expanding its cohort size.

The number of cohorts increased from 12 to 64 with the addition of additional sessions for the spring and summer. Each cohort consisted of about 200 educators. Additionally, more cohorts are available for the Fall 2024 and Spring 2025 semesters “in response to the early demand,” the IDOE said.

Nevertheless, a few educators expressed fear that their financing may run out before they finish the course.

According to IDOE officials, educators who complete the literacy endorsement before June 2025 will have access to the Keys to Literacy training and the corresponding honorarium. The $1,200 is a portion of the over $170 million that Indiana has invested in literacy, with funding provided in part by grants from the Lilly Endowment.

When the General Assembly meets in January to create the 2025–2027 budget, Jenner stated that she and other officials will “absolutely continue to advocate for sustained funding for free teacher literacy training.”

Additional adjustments intended to facilitate instructors’ access to the training were also included in Jenner’s Friday update.

Beginning on July 1, the IDOE will permit completion of the mandatory eighty hours of professional development in an asynchronous manner. Additionally, Jenner stated that there are plans to increase the number of authorized training options. Educators who have previously enrolled but would prefer to take part in the new option can do so.

Furthermore, the early literacy endorsement will no longer be necessary for instructors holding a PK–6 “parent license” who do not now instruct PK–5 literacy. According to ISTA members, this will provide “significant relief to educators focused on other content areas.”

According to IDOE, a teacher with a PK–6 parent license who instructs PK–5 pupils in a subject area without reading instruction will not have to obtain the early literacy endorsement. However, the educator would still need to obtain endorsement in order to renew their license if they went on to teach literacy to students in grades PK–5.

Jenner stated that IDOE is dedicated to “exploring other potential ways to provide a consistent, quality measure that ensures we are best implementing science of reading practices” and noted concerns over the PRAXIS exam.

What happens after that?

Many Hoosier teachers expressed uncertainty about whether they still need to finish the professional development course in spite of the changes.

Although Lori Weaver, of Evansville, is licensed to teach special education in grades Pre-K–3, she currently works in a high school. Weaver stated that although she does not instruct younger pupils in literacy, she does not feel that she should be required to finish the new endorsement in order to maintain her credentials.

“It’s relieving to see they’re listening and trying to make changes … because I don’t think (all teachers) should have to be wrapped up in this if it’s not relevant to what we’re directly responsible for teaching our students,” Weaver said. “But I still don’t have a guarantee that I don’t have to do (the training), so that stress is still there.”

In an example described in IDOE’s new guidance, an educator who now teaches high school math — or another curriculum area that is not literacy — and who does not plan to teach PK-5 literacy in the future, “will not be required to add the early literacy endorsement.”

IDOE officials stated that in order to be excluded, a “written assurance form” must be shared before July 1, 2027, which is when the early literacy endorsement requirement goes into effect. Administrators from the district and the school must sign the form attesting to the fact that the teacher is not teaching literacy to students in grades PK–5 at this time and “does not plan to do so in the future.”

“There are too few details about what that form will look like and what kinds of hoops I might have to jump through to get it approved,” said Haley Singer, a middle school special education teacher in Indianapolis.

A increasing number of enrolled Indiana instructors have announced that they would no longer be teaching the Keys to Literacy course in opposition to the mandated training. Some stated that they intend to register but are currently refusing to do so.

Six teachers who spoke with the Indiana Capital Chronicle described the literacy endorsement as a “attack” on the state’s already qualified but overworked teachers. Some of the teachers expressed discomfort speaking in public for fear of facing backlash from district or school administrators.
Additionally, they stated that the potential $1,200 compensation is insufficient to reimburse teachers for the time they sacrificed outside of work to complete the training.

“It’s the summer. I should be with my kids, my family — not with my nose in my computer being re-taught the science of reading, which is not new to me or many other educators,” said Kyle Peterson, who teaches at an elementary school in northeast Indiana. “We already have so much other professional development we’re required to complete … on top of all the education and coursework we had to pass just to get our license in the first place. … Yes, there is a literacy problem in Indiana. But why are we only pointing the finger at teachers?”

 

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