Governor, State Superintendent Partner to Improve Reading Skills of Wisconsin Students

Read to Lead Releases First Report, Emphasizes Reading Skills in Teacher Training, Literacy in Early Education

MacIver News Service | January 4, 2012

[Greendale, Wisc…] Governor Scott Walker and State Superintendent Tony Evers unveiled the findings of the Read to Lead task force Wednesday morning. The report – a culmination of nearly nine months of collaboration between teachers, legislators, the Department of Public Instruction, and the Governor’s office – stresses early intervention for reading skills amongst Wisconsin’s youngest students.

The move comes in response to U.S. Department of Education data that suggests Wisconsin is failing to improve when it comes to teaching students literacy skills. Where the state was once a national leader, it has fallen down the ranks thanks to improvements made in other states across the country. Wisconsin was once second in the country in fourth grade reading in 1995 – now, the state ranks 16th.

“I’m really pleased with the recommendations of this task force,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers.  “Reading is a foundational skill that all students must have in order to graduate prepared for success in college or career. Our reforms support students, parents and educators with a statewide focus on instruction to improve reading achievement.”

This foundation will be addressed in several ways under the new reforms. They include:

  • Early literacy screening for students in kindergarten and pre-kindergarten to better understand a child’s reading level.
  • Greater teacher training in the fields of early reading, including more rigorous preparation and exams for reading instructors.
  • More – and better – professional development and learning opportunities for current reading specialists in public schools.
  • A reaching out to the state’s philanthropic organizations to promote stronger reading programs before third grade.

Legislators were hopeful that elements that needed legislative approval – including the screening tests – would be voted in before the 2012-2013 school year.

Read to Lead will also stretch into other reforms that were introduced in 2011. The teacher and school accountability programs, which aim to bring a transparent and open grading system to educators and institutions, will both emphasize third grade reading scores when evaluating public education in Wisconsin.

The goal here is to empower teachers that may have previously struggled and increase the amount of support for both educators and students when it comes to literacy. A strong network of education for teachers – from learning how to properly assess students to finding new ways to intervene and improve student comprehension – will be the backbone of this reform.

“For Wisconsin students to know how to read by fourth grade is critical to their education and their success in the future,” said Governor Walker.  “I am proud of the work of this non-partisan taskforce.  Working together I believe we have developed an important plan to improve reading in Wisconsin, laying the foundation for our students to excel.”

The Read to Lead program was unveiled last spring in an effort to bring sweeping reform to the state’s public schools. It has roots in similar policy that helped reform and improve Florida’s public schools over the past decade. However, it strays from the Sunshine State’s program in a few dramatic ways that could alter the impact it has on students and parents in Wisconsin.

Part of what made Florida’s reforms so successful is an added emphasis on ending social promotion for students that cannot read proficiently. If a pupil cannot demonstrate reasonable literacy skills by the end of third grade, they are not allowed to move on to fourth grade. This has reduced the number of Florida students that entered middle and high school with diminished reading abilities and put an onus on both children and parents alike to perform in the classroom.

As a result of this reform – and others – Florida is now one of those states outperforming Wisconsin when it comes to reading in fourth grade.

This element is not a piece of Wisconsin’s Read to Lead program. As a result, the extra push towards greater literacy from the state’s teachers may not meet the same response from parents and students. However, the task force is betting that stronger intervention methods at an early age, combined with stronger teachers and more effective teaching maneuvers, will be enough to kick start the state’s reading scores and improve the quality of education in the Badger State.

Today’s release was the end result of months of hard work and meetings to create a comprehensive program that addresses the literacy shortcomings that have grown in Wisconsin over the past two decades. It’s a dedicated move forward in the scope of improving public education. However, questions remain over whether it will go far enough to improve the state’s stagnant reading scores.

Read to Lead will empower teachers and put an onus on literacy skills throughout early childhood education. Every student from Hudson to Milwaukee will get more attention when it comes to reading – from early screening tests in the first year of school to more comprehensive interventions through third grade. This is a major commitment to reading for the state of Wisconsin, but it’s a necessary one for the future of the state.

The entire Read to Lead report can be found here: