I spoke at the State Board of Education meeting today because I support our teachers and schools having science-based training and curriculum that will support all Indiana children in becoming skilled readers. 

Watch the video of my testimony here:

I have always admired teachers. I know how hard they work and how much they care about students. My time tutoring only reinforced how much I appreciate the work of our educators.  I believe that in the long-run, changing how our state teaches children to read will only benefit our classrooms and our teachers, who I know care about our kids and want all the tools they can get to help struggling readers in their classrooms. 

I know there has been some pushback about the new literacy endorsement teachers need, and I won’t pretend to know all of the politics at play here. But as a parent who cares about kids in Indiana and as a person who has seen firsthand how the reading crisis in our state is impacting children, I wanted to be here to say our kids deserve more. Our kids deserve proven methods in reading instruction so they have fair chances at successful futures. 

That’s why I support the efforts being made by state leaders to ensure our tremendous educators have the support they need to help our most struggling readers.    

I did not initially think Indiana was facing a literacy crisis. Then I began to volunteer with my church. In asking elementary through middle school students in my Sunday school class to read basic passages, I saw and was extremely disheartened by the failures of our public schools.

Seeing so many kids behind where they should have been, I couldn’t sit by and do nothing.

So, I testified in support of the Science of Reading this legislative session. I wanted to ensure our schools had the right curriculum, based in science. I wanted to voice that our kids need to read because it will determine not only their futures but also ours as a state.

Watch my video to learn why I shared my story and how literacy in our state is changing because of advocates like me:

Just imagining the difference this bill will make in the lives of children across our state is so fulfilling. While I had to push through the nerves and feelings that I couldn’t do it, I am glad my story made a difference. Our teachers and schools will now have the science-based training and curriculum they need to support all Indiana children in becoming skilled readers.

If you have a story to tell, I encourage you to join Stand for Children Indiana’s email list and share by emailing [email protected].

INDIANAPOLIS – The following statement was issued today by Stand for Children Indiana’s Executive Director Justin Ohlemiller after the passage of House Enrolled Act 1558, along with funding in the state budget for early literacy grants. The legislative package, in its entirety, aims to dramatically improve the state’s approach to classroom instruction related to reading. The legislation is now headed to Governor Holcomb for signature.

“We are grateful to the Indiana General Assembly for their work to address our state’s literacy crisis through House Enrolled Act 1558 and the creation of a $20 million annual grant fund to improve classroom instruction grounded in the science of reading. It is nothing short of a tragedy that only 31% of Hoosier students are proficient readers, according to NAEP data. The system has failed so many of our young people for generations, relying on unproven – and even harmful – instructional approaches to reading. We’ve also failed our educators too, having sent them into classrooms without the training and knowledge needed to help struggling readers.

“We cannot address the huge gaps in educational opportunity until we ensure all children have a strong foundation in literacy. We know from decades of brain research that there is a right way and wrong way to teach children to read. House Enrolled Act 1558 sets the stage for schools to use curricula and instructional practices rooted in science. The bill and as well as the grant fund support the ongoing work of Secretary Katie Jenner and the Indiana Department of Education to give educators the tools and training they need to help struggling readers much more effectively.

“Stand for Children Indiana is so appreciative for the work and leadership of legislators like bill author Rep. Jake Teshka, bill sponsor Sen. Aaron Freeman, Chairman Bob Behning, Chairman Jeff Raatz, Sen. Linda Rogers and Sen. Andrea Hunley. Their diligent work will ensure Indiana’s approach to literacy gets a significant boost from the policy outlined this legislative session. We also want to thank Secretary Jenner for her leadership on the issue, as well as the Lilly Endowment for their significant investment in increasing evidence-based reading practices in Indiana classrooms.”


About Stand: Stand for Children Indiana is a unique catalyst for education equity and racial justice, to create a brighter future for us all.

I support House Bill 1558. Because I am a reader and my children are readers and even my grandchildren are readers. I did not initially think Indiana was facing a literacy crisis.

But then I began to volunteer with my church.

And in asking elementary through middle school students in my Sunday school class to read basic passages, I saw and was extremely disheartened by the failures of our public schools. And I do say public schools because I know that ANY child can learn to read. But they need to be taught with proven methods.

When I first noticed this problem, I felt helpless and really overwhelmed – especially as I watched an 8th grader who was struggling to read a primary school book. I wondered how she had gotten by and how our schools could pass along children who cannot read. I questioned if the materials we were using to teach children were the right ones. I asked her mom if she had an IEP and she did not. I was told she simply did not like to read. But I know that liking to read and being able to read are different things. One is a preference and one often determines our futures and the rest of our academic experiences as well as our lives.

Natalie Lott and grandchildren.

Seeing so many kids all behind where they should have been, I couldn’t sit by and do nothing. 

So, along with two other volunteers at my church, we started a Tuesday class to help students who were behind in reading. A teacher we knew offered us a suggested class and book. The book is based on the Science of Reading. And while I did not know that at the time, I can say that it is helping. I can also say that what we are currently doing in our public schools is not.

Since all of this began, I have learned that only 37% of children in Indiana are reading on grade level. But the statistic is sadly no longer as shocking. It is, however, still extremely unacceptable.

As a state, we must do better for our children. I believe that HB 1558 does just that. It helps ensure schools have the right curriculum, based in science. It makes sure our teachers and schools are supported in this.

 I am not an expert on this bill, but I can say that our kids need to learn to read. Reading will determine their futures and ours as a state.

I hope House Bill 1558 passes. Through my work, I can help 10-12 children at a time. This bill has the possibility to help thousands of Indiana students.

Thinking back on how I was taught to read, I don’t know that all of it was beneficial. While it has been a long time and I don’t remember everything by any stretch, I recall being taught to “skip ahead” when I struggled with a word.  

After I “skipped ahead,” I could go back and decide what that word was later based on context clues. Or I could just skip the word and do my best to understand the paragraph based on the words I did know. In those cases, I wasn’t being asked to stop and sound out the word and therefore, I wasn’t being corrected when I wasn’t sounding it out properly. I also wasn’t learning what the word meant.  

Because I was shy in school at this time, I used “skipping ahead” as a way of not having to sound silly if I wasn’t confident in my ability to read a word aloud in front of my class.  

Today, I love reading. The thought that someone can combine words and create enchanted lands and stories that lift us right out of current situations and into new worlds is magical to me. The ways books can be used to help us understand those around us and share or better understand lived experiences is breathtaking. But I did have to train my brain to not just skip over unknown words and that was difficult for me for a long time.  

As a mom, I love reading with my son. I love trading pages. He gets the left page and I take the right. I LOVE how he laughs when I make voices for the characters and how he now does the same.  

But to be completely honest, I never really thought about there being ONE right way to teach my son to read. I just purchased books of all kinds and started reading with my child every single night. I printed out sight word flash cards. I searched for the best ways to teach my son, but I didn’t know exactly what to search for. I didn’t have a method at all when teaching my child to read. I just knew that I wanted my son to be a good reader and to one day share my love of reading.  

If you’re wondering, I didn’t teach my child to skip ahead. And now that I am learning about the Science of Reading, I am glad I didn’t. But there are a lot of other lessons I am learning.  

Not only have I found that skipping ahead is a bad practice, but I’ve learned there are a lot of other ill-advised practices that are common (and found in many of our classrooms) too.  

I’m not an expert on the Science of Reading, but I hope you’ll benefit from what I have learned so far: 

  • Don’t skip over words, have your child or student sound them out.  
    • The same thing goes for misread words. They should be corrected and sounded out (which I know can be hard –my son hated being corrected). 
    • Phonics has to be foundational! Successful readers are taught with an explicit and systematic focus on phonics and phonemic awareness.  
  • Reading instruction isn’t catered to a kid’s learning style.  
    • Structured reading instruction is vital. 
  • Using pictures to guess words doesn’t help children learn to read. 
    • This practice is known as “cueing” and SoR tells us it doesn’t work.  
  • Building vocabulary as exact words are identified and sounded out is important!  
  • Read decodable texts that reinforce phonics patterns instead of leveled readers.  
    • Decodable texts are meant for beginning readers. They help kids connect sounds in letters and solve words.  
      • I did not choose Bob Books for my son because I knew they were decodable books. A teacher recommended them to me while at a Stand Indiana workshop focused on IREAD. Before I knew what the Science of Reading was or why decodable texts mattered, I just thought these books were magic. My child who was not reading one day was enthusiastic about reading the next!  

One of my biggest school-related fears for my son was that he would struggle to read, and I feel blessed that he’s doing well. But if your child is struggling to read, I hope you will remember all kids are capable of reading and of excellence. I hope what I have learned about the Science of Reading so far helps someone out there. And if you have feedback or your own learnings from the Science of Reading, comment below!  

You may or may not have heard of the expression, “the Science of Reading.” Like so many buzz phrases in education, you may be initially skeptical about whether the Science of Reading might be the latest “flavor of the month” in a long list of alleged cures for our struggling public education system. So what is it? 

It’s important to note that it’s not a cookie cutter policy.  

The Science of Reading is simply a broad body of research conducted over decades by hundreds of scientists through thousands of studies all over the world. Through this work, there is clear evidence of how we learn to read proficiently by seeing how our brains respond to certain methods of receiving content. Just as science has led to effective medicines for fighting disease and creating machines that send us to the moon and drive us to the grocery store, science has given us a clear roadmap for what is proven to work in how we teach reading and literacy. 

Unlike learning to talk, our brains just aren’t wired to learn to read and write. Learning to read is complex. It’s more than surrounding our children with books. It’s more than memorizing words. It’s more than context clues.  

We know that an explicit and systematic focus on phonics and phonemic awareness matters and that many commonly used ways our children are being taught to read are ineffective (things like guessing words based on pictures or memorizing the text). 

The Science of Reading says schools should be systematically teaching reading by focusing on these five tenets: 

  1. Phonemic Awareness: The ability to identify individual sounds in spoken words. 
  1. Phonics: Knowing how sounds look in written words. 
  1. Fluency: The ability to read, speak and write words that make sense without having to stop to decode 
  1. Vocabulary: Knowing the meaning of words being read. 
  1. Comprehension: The ability to accurately understand text. 

If you’d like to continue learning about SoR, check out these resources from the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE).

Reading is important. I believe it might be the most important thing our children learn in school because children who struggle to read are at risk of falling behind in many subjects. 

The decades of brain research that make up the Science of Reading have given us a clear understanding of how we learn to read. While best practices for teaching reading have grown from this, many of our children are not benefiting. The data makes that clear.  

In Indiana, only 37% of our students are reading at grade level (down from 41% in 2017). And within that data, there is a problematic racial gap –signifying clear, further inequities:  

  • 43% of white students are on reading on grade level 
  • 17% of Black students are proficient 
  • 24% of Latino students are proficient 

Our state law doesn’t define evidence-based reading or require schools to adopt an aligned curriculum. That’s a problem.  

It’s a problem because students who are not proficient in reading by the end of third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school compared to proficient readers. It’s a problem because, despite decades of research that demonstrates how children can become successful readers, many schools aren’t following this evidence. It’s a problem because the literacy crisis in our state is widening opportunity gaps.  

Our teachers and our schools deserve the support and resources to ensure every student can read and our students deserve to be educated with practices that are backed by science.  


Indiana is neck-deep in a literacy crisis. Just slightly more than one in three Hoosier children (37%) are reading on grade level (down from 41% in 2017) according to NAEP, which is known as the nation’s report card. Student demographic data shows significant disparities along racial and ethnic lines, but the literacy crisis impacts children of all backgrounds. And while COVID has certainly contributed to this problem, many of these significant challenges pre-date the pandemic. 

  • 43% of white students are on reading on grade level. 
  • This number is 17% of for Black students and 24% of Latino students. 
  • The data shows Indiana has made NO progress in closing achievement gaps related to reading in 20 years. 

Beyond this disturbing data is the impact illiteracy has on everyday people and our communities. When young people are not getting the tools needed to become skilled readers, their opportunities to learn and prepare for life success are severely limited. And these limitations have a ripple effect on the health and well-being of our economy and cities and towns across Indiana. It’s a well-known fact that companies consider literacy rates when evaluating where to expand and create new jobs. By one estimate, increasing literacy rates in our nation could add trillions of dollars in annual income growth. If we consider this fact for Indiana alone, we would likely be looking at billions of dollars in earnings for Hoosiers by successfully attacking high illiteracy rates.  

The Commission for Higher Education recently released its annual report highlighting postsecondary attainment in Indiana, and the data was cause for concern. Only 53% of high schoolers are heading to college, which marks a steep decline (12% decrease over the last five years). The state’s goal of having 60% of adults achieve some form of higher education attainment by 2025 is severely off the mark – sitting currently at just 48%. While there are several factors contributing to Indiana’s higher education decline, there is no question that our underlying literacy crisis is feeding this trend.   

Fortunately, there is hope and it comes in the form of science. The Science of Reading (SoR) has given us a clear understanding of how we learn to read and how we should teach children to read.  Thankfully, the Indiana Department of Education just announced a major investment in the science of reading that should mean thousands of elementary educators will get the training and support needed to teach literacy more effectively. Be sure to read the details of this exciting plan here.

Be sure to follow Stand on social media for more details on the science of reading and what specific action steps we can take as a state to turn all Hoosier children into skilled readers.