INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Department of Education is launching a new program this fall that will provide coaching to teachers in reading and STEM subjects.

Under the pilot program, nearly 70 schools will hire coaches to help teachers learn research-based instruction methods, according to IDOE spokesperson Holly Lawson.

The goal, Lawson said, is to help students in K-8 schools catch up on lost learning. IREAD test results from the 2020-2021 school year showed nearly one in five Hoosier third graders were not proficient in reading, she added.

Educators say students are still suffering setbacks after learning on laptops for so long due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

“We have had a kindergarteners who may not have had access to preschool,” said Anna Roth, director of curriculum, instruction and teacher development for Southmont Schools. “We have first graders who had an unusual kindergarten year.”

To help some of the youngest students catch up on reading, Roth said, her district created a position earlier this year to coach teachers on a new interactive method of instruction that is based on research.

“It might mean that you’re working with blocks or cards to be able to move things around,” Roth said. “So it’s more than just words on the page.”

Although Roth’s elementary schools already have one of these coaches on staff, they are among the nearly schools participating in the new IDOE program next year.

“We know that if they continue to struggle to read past the third grade, that impacts a whole other range of their learning,” Lawson said.

The coaches at these schools only work with teachers, not students, Lawson explained. They have education backgrounds and receive additional training from the state, she added.

Some of the schools opted in voluntarily, while others were invited to participate based on test scores, Lawson said.

“And it’s also based upon the demographics that we see in these schools because we know that not all students are impacted equally by COVID,” Lawson said.

The program is set to run at least the next two school years, Lawson said. At the start, It’s being funded with $20 million in federal COVID relief that was set aside for schools, she added.