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Bipartisan Task Force efforts aimed at ensuring kids learn to read by fourth grade

Madison – Governor Scott Walker today released a plan to help make sure Wisconsin students learn to read by the time they need to read to learn.

“For Wisconsin students to know how to read by fourth grade is critical to their education and their success in the future.”  Governor Walker said.  “We need to make sure we are not failing them.  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.”

“Reading is a foundational skill that all students must have in order to graduate prepared for success in college or career,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers.  “Our reforms support students, parents and educators with a statewide focus on instruction to improve reading achievement.”

There is no skill more important to future success than reading.  Yet, over the past two decades, students in other states have been improving their reading achievement on national measures faster than students in Wisconsin.  The results from the 2011 NAEP reading assessment for 4th grade students show that while Wisconsin once ranked among the very top states in the nation, we now rank somewhere in the middle of the pack.  The literacy skills a child acquires in the early years of life provide the foundation for all later learning, and research has demonstrated that a child who is reading on grade level by the end of third grade is far more likely to graduate high school than a student who is not.

To dramatically improve reading outcomes in Wisconsin, Governor Walker convened the Read to Lead Task Force in the Spring of 2011 to review the state of reading in Wisconsin and develop a plan for improvement.  This impressive team of teachers, legislators, researchers and advocates worked together to reach a consensus on ways to ensure all of Wisconsin’s children learn to read before they reach fourth grade.

The recommendations of the Read to Lead Task Force focus on improvements and changes in teacher preparation and professional development; screening, assessment and intervention; early childhood; accountability; and family involvement.  They include:

  • Implementing early literacy screening for all kindergarteners in Wisconsin to identify and intervene with struggling students as soon as they enter school;
  • Strengthening YoungStar, the statewide childcare rating system, to include more specific early literacy criteria to identify and support struggling readers as soon as possible;
  • Implementing improvements to teacher preparation programs around early reading, including a new, more rigorous exam for reading educators;
  • Requiring that the professional development plans for all new elementary educators explicitly focus on literacy, and require focused professional development educators whose students continually struggle to improve their performance;
  • Providing new, aggressive professional development opportunities to enhance the skills of current reading educators, including a new online professional development portal at and an annual reading conference for elementary principals and district reading specialists; and
  • Creating a new public/private partnership to engage Wisconsin philanthropic groups and businesses around the goal of ensuring every child can read by the end of third grade.  

The Task Force’s recommendations also focus on how the state will hold our institutions accountable for improving reading results.  Specifically:

  • Wisconsin’s new educator effectiveness system, released in November 2011, will require a portion of every educator’s evaluation to be based on growth in statewide reading scores;
  • Wisconsin’s new school and district accountability system, still under development, will place additional weight on third grade reading performance to underscore the importance of reading on grade level at that critical year; and
  • Schools and districts underperforming in reading will be required to implement targeted improvements, including a science-based reading program.

While some of the Task Force’s work, such as the new reading exam for elementary reading educators and the changes to the YoungStar rating system, can be accomplished through policy changes at DPI and DCF, others, such as the literacy screening and public/private partnerships will be advanced through legislation.  

“We are excited to announce universal screening for all kindergarteners. This will give us an indication of every child’s literacy skills at the beginning of their K-12 experience, helping ensure each child gets what they need to learn to read,” said Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon).

“I am committed to working to see these recommendations faithfully implemented in Wisconsin and urge the public to be involved in this conversation,” said Rep. Steve Kestell (R-Elkhart Lake) “I feel strongly that many teachers and schools in our state do a fantastic job teaching reading, but there is certainly room for improvement.  This is too important for us to rest on our laurels and risk leaving even more kids behind.”