Policy Solution: Helping Students Read

Sep 14, 2021 | Policy

THE PROBLEM: Too many Wisconsin children struggle to read, creating an educational, moral, and workforce crisis.  The problem is getting worse:

> Roughly two out of every three fourth graders in Wisconsin are not proficient in reading.

> Wisconsin ranks last in the country for reading proficiency for black students.

> Since 1992, Wisconsin is one of only six states to see a significant drop in reading test scores.

POLICY SOLUTION: Assembly Bill 446 (Senate Bill 454), led by Senator Kathleen Bernier and Representative Joel Kitchens, creates a new “Roadmap to Reading Success” for Wisconsin’s children at public schools. The bill overhauls Wisconsin’s childhood literacy policies by: strengthening existing screening requirements, empowering parents with more information on their children’s reading progress, requiring schools to intervene with struggling students, and making more data public so policymakers can track schools’ successes – or failures. The bill is modeled after best practices in leading states.

AB 446 has a committee hearing today at 10am. Watch here.


1. Students first learn to read and then, around the third grade, use reading to learn other subjects.  But students who are not proficient in reading are four times more likely to drop out of high school and earn on average around $34,000 per year (ExcelinEd). They are associated with lower levels of health outcomes and civic engagement.

2. Compared to other states, Wisconsin’s reading scores have declined across the board. Most notably, the Badger State is last for reading achievement for black students (among the 42 states reporting data).

3. We cannot improve reading outcomes unless teachers and parents are actively engaged in supporting children. And this cannot happen without more advanced screening tools and science-backed policies to identify potential areas of concern early and then intervene accordingly.

4. The Roadmap to Reading Success was introduced as Assembly Bill 446(and Senate bill 454) by Senator Kathleen Bernier and Representative Joel Kitchens. The commonsense bill would require regular, systematic, and science-based progress monitoring for all public-school students in four-year-old kindergarten through second grade.  Each student would be screened and students who are struggling would receive a personal reading plan to help them improve. Parents would be engaged in this process early and often, particularly if their child needs additional help

5. IRG supports The Roadmap to Reading success, along with ExcelinEd in Action, Decoding Dyslexia, and the Wisconsin Reading Coalition to support comprehensive overhaul of our childhood literacy policies to ensure all children have the opportunity to succeed and fulfill their potential.


“The Roadmap to Reading Success” bill is a really important first step toward improving reading outcomes for Wisconsin kids. If my son had been screened in kindergarten, he would have been identified as needing a personalized reading instruction plan. With effective screening and instruction in place as early as kindergarten or first grade, my son could have been helped much sooner.” – Nikki M., Waunakee, Wis.

“Parents of struggling readers need to be notified and involved in how their student is progressing from the very beginning. The Roadmap to Reading Success bill would have helped our daughter because we were never notified that she was at risk for reading failure and this bill details notification requirements including 15 days to notify parents. This bill also requires parent involvement in their student’s personal reading plan if the student is at risk for reading failure. I believe our daughter would have gotten more intensive help quicker instead of being stuck in failed intervention if we had seen her reading scores and intervention data.” – Katie K., Oregon, Wis.

BACKGROUND:  Evidence shows that if students struggle to read, they will also struggle in other subjects.  Tragically, Wisconsin students are falling behind their peers in other states while the entire United States has been slipping relative to other nations. Between 1992 and 2019, 24 states saw a meaningful improvement in their 4th grade reading scores and most of the rest were relatively unchanged.  Only 6 states saw a meaningful drop in their scores- and Wisconsin is one of them. Since 1992, Wisconsin has fallen 31 places for reading achievement for black students, 21 places for white students, and 28 places for Hispanic students.

It doesn’t have to be that way. States like Florida and Mississippi have seen significant improvement in their literacy scores since adopting comprehensive childhood literacy reforms. They provided strong supports to teachers, parents, and students, changed how teachers are trained, and implemented screeners to identify children who are struggling early and often.  They also took the politically difficult step of enacting strong accountability when children struggle to read even after third grade.

The Bernier – Kitchens bill would make Wisconsin more aligned with best practices in the country:

> More literacy assessments throughout the year, increasing an assessment (which takes less than 15 minutes) from once a year to three times a year

> Empowering parents by informing them of their children’s literacy assessment scores and providing regular progress reports to parents if their “at risk” child is receiving literacy intervention

> Requiring schools to provide reading interventions for students who are below the 25th percentile for reading

> Increase transparency on schools so policymakers can evaluate what school districts are working – and what are not.

This bill builds upon efforts during the budget process led by Rep. Thiesfeldt and Senator Bernier to ensure that the governor and Department of Public Instruction are focusing on the science of reading in the education plans they submit to the U.S. Department of Education (read more here).