Literacy training guidance updated after criticism from Indiana teachers

In response to widespread pushback from Hoosier educators, state officials have issued new guidance — with more “flexibility” — on a new literacy licensure requirement that was adopted by the General Assembly earlier this year.

But questions persist for many teachers, and some remain opposed to the new professional development mandate altogether.

Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner said in a letter to teachers on Friday that their input has prompted the state’s education department to adjust and add training options. Some educators have additionally been exempted from the licensure requirements, as long as they aren’t teaching literacy to students past 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 Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA) applauded Jenner for “acknowledging the extensive requirements of the new literacy endorsement” and said the updated guidance “is a testament to the importance of educator advocacy.”

The state’s largest teachers union — along with dozens of its members — spent more than four hours before the State Board of Education earlier this month, criticizing the “unfair” and “overwhelming” 80-hour training. Many pleaded for more options to be made available for teachers to complete the professional development course — or that it be removed as a requirement altogether.

Jenner and other state education officials have repeatedly maintained that the requirement cannot be nixed altogether, given that it’s a statutory requirement from lawmakers.

“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.”

What’s required of teachers

The training requirement requires all Pre-K to Grade 6 and special education teachers to complete 80 hours of professional development on science of reading concepts and pass a written exam. Teachers won’t be able to renew their licenses without doing so.

State lawmakers approved the literacy training requirement during the 2024 legislative session as part of an effort to reverse lagging literacy scores among Hoosier students.

Indiana’s reading scores have been on the decline for more than a decade. According to data from the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE), in 2023, one in five Hoosier third graders lacked foundational reading skills.

Under the law, teachers renewing their licenses after July 1, 2027 must have earned an “Early Literacy Endorsement.” They can do so through Keys to Literacy, a free third-party professional development program, through 2025. Teachers are eligible for a $1,200 stipend for the 80-hour Keys to Literacy training, and the state is covering the cost of the PRAXIS exam.

New teachers will need the endorsement next summer if they are receiving their license for the first time.

Teachers emphasized to state officials that many of the free training courses are already full, however, leaving only a few other options for which teachers must pay for out of pocket.

Jenner said earlier this month that 12,000 teachers signed up for the Keys to Literacy training in three weeks. Following rounds of earlier concerns, IDOE announced May 8 that the state is adding cohorts.

Additional sessions were added for spring and summer, increasing the total number of cohorts from 12 to 64 — each with approximately 200 educators. More cohorts are also open for both Fall 2024 and Spring 2025 “in response to the early demand,” according to IDOE.

Still, some teachers said they’re concerned funding will run out before they complete the course.

IDOE officials said the Keys to Literacy training — and the adjoining stipend — will be available to any educator who completes the literacy endorsement through June 2025. The $1,200 is part of Indiana’s investment of more than $170 million into literacy, supported in part by grants from the Lilly Endowment.

Jenner said she and other officials will “absolutely continue to advocate for sustained funding for free teacher literacy training” when the General Assembly convenes in January to build the 2025-2027 budget.

Jenner’s Friday update included other changes meant to help teachers access the training, too.

The IDOE will allow the full 80 hours of required professional development to be completed asynchronously starting July 1. Efforts are also underway to expand the list of approved training options, and teachers who have already registered but wish to instead participate in the new option will be able to do so, Jenner said.

Additionally, teachers with a PK-6 “parent license” who do not currently teach PK-5 literacy will no longer be required to earn the early literacy endorsement, which ISTA representatives said will offer “significant relief to educators focused on other content areas.”

An educator who holds a PK-6 parent license but teaches in a content area that does not involve literacy instruction for PK-5 students will not be required to earn the early literacy endorsement, according to IDOE. If the educator teaches PK-5 literacy later on, they would still be required to earn endorsement in order to renew their license, though.

Jenner also acknowledged concerns about the PRAXIS exam and said IDOE is committed to “exploring other potential ways to provide a consistent, quality measure that ensures we are best implementing science of reading practices.”

What comes next?

Despite the updates, numerous Hoosier teachers said it’s unclear whether they must still complete the professional development training.

Lori Weaver, in Evansville, holds Pre-K-3 and K-12 special education licenses but currently teaches in a high school setting. Weaver said she wants to keep her credentials — but because she doesn’t teach literacy to younger students — she doesn’t feel she should have to complete the new endorsement.

“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 outlined in IDOE’s new guidance, an educator who currently teaches high school math — or another content 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.”

To be exempt, IDOE officials said a “written assurance form” will be shared prior to July 1, 2027, when the early literacy endorsement requirement begins. The form will require a signature by district and school administrators confirming that the teacher is not currently teaching PK-5 literacy “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.

Meanwhile, a growing number of Indiana teachers who’ve already signed up said they’re dropping the Keys to Literacy course as a protest of the training requirement. Others said they’re set to register and, for now, refuse to do so.

A half-dozen teachers who spoke to the Indiana Capital Chronicle — some of whom were not comfortable speaking publicly out of fear of retribution from school or district administrators — said they viewed the literacy endorsement as an “attack” on the state’s already qualified, but overworked, teachers.

They said, too, that the possibility of a $1,200 stipend does little to compensate educators for their personal time used for the training course.

“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?”

By Casey Smith – The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that covers state government, policy and elections.