Written testimony (PDF):
Thank you Chairwoman Darling and committee members for holding a hearing on Senate Bill 154 today.
In Wisconsin, 64% of fourth graders are not proficient readers, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, with 34% failing to meet even the test’s basic standal Nationally, Wisconsin ranks dead last in reading achievement among black students, falling 31 places since 1992. In the same timeframe, reading achievement for Wisconsin white students has fallen from 6th to 27th, and Hispanic students from 1st to 28th. Wisconsin ha a dire reading problem.
Reading is critical to future success. Children who don’t learn to read by the end of third grade are likely to fall behind in other subjects and remain poor readers for the rest of their lives. Poor readers are more likely to drop out of high school, live in poverty, and end up in the criminal justice system. Of those who fail to gain a high school diploma, almost 90 percent experienced trouble reading in the third grade and seven in 10 prison inmates cannot read above a fourth-grade level.
Although Wisconsin was once a leader in literacy, our students now lag behind states where evidence-based approaches to early literacy have been adopted. Thankfully, over the past two decades, neuroscience – including groundbreaking research at UW-Madison – has allowed us to move beyond theory and guesswork, to identify exactly how children become skilled readers AND what effective literacy interventions look like for a child struggling to read. SB 454 aligns Wisconsin law with this growing body of research by strengthening state literacy screening standards, providing more transparency and ensuring teachers have the framework and tools needed to help every child become a proficient reader.
Under current law. Wisconsin schools are required to select and administer an annual literacy assessment to students in four-year-old kindergarten through 2nd grade. Screening assessments are typically only a few minutes in length, and consist of a teacher or volunteer using a flipchart or tablet to guide a child through a handful of exercises. Costs of these assessments are reimbursed by the state. Senate Bill 454 strengthens these existing state screening standards and provides the framework and tools to help every child learn to read in five major ways: Broadens Screening Components to Reflect Evidence-Based Best Practices: Dozens of literacy screeners are available to schools, but not all assess what research shows are the most critical components for reading. This bill expands the required screening components from two to five components to ensure schools are using high quality, evidence-based screeners. This helps teachers more easily identify reading difficulties AND select effective intervention strategies to help children overcome reading difficulties as early as possible.
Increases Assessment Frequency from annually to three times per year to better evaluate student progress, build a baseline for each student, and catch reading difficulties earlier.
Keeps Parents Involved and Informed: Too many parents do not find out their child is struggling to read until third grade (!) when they receive their child’s Forward Exam results. SB 454 requires schools to notify parents of screener results within 15 days, including plain language about the child’s score, percentile rank and if the child is identified as “at-risk”. The bill also requires schools to inform parents if a child begins a reading intervention plan, and detail the interventions that will be used.
Creates Clear Direction to Get Kids Back on Track: There are currently no requirements for when schools must provide additional literacy screening, and there are minimal requirements regarding reading interventions for students. This bill requires students who score below the 25th percentile on a literacy screener be given a more comprehensive screener to inform targeted, evidence-aligned interventions. Increases Transparency and Accountability: Under the bill, schools must annually report the number of students identified as at-risk at each assessment level and the number of students provided with literacy interventions. Statewide consistency across screening components, testing frequency and reporting will give districts, DPI and the legislature critical information to help us all make better informed policy decisions.
The bottom line is that research shows that the earlier we catch reading difficulties and begin simple interventions, the more successful those interventions will be. Strengthening our existing literacy screening laws will ensure that every struggling reader gets the help they need before they’ve fallen behind, lost self-esteem, and disengage from school and learning.