Follow Us

Report: 44% of Wisconsin schools’ reading curriculum ‘doesn’t work’

More than 59% of students are less than proficient in reading, and the state posts the worst racial achievement gap of any state in the nation when it comes to reading.

Published: August 14, 2023 11:00pm

(The Center Square) -

A new report on reading in Wisconsin shows many schools across the state continue to use reading lessons shown to leave students behind.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty is out with a new report called Trust the Science? The Use of Outdated Reading Curricula in Wisconsin Schools. It looks at how whole-language reading curricula have performed over the years.

“Forward Exam scores show that Wisconsin students are struggling in reading. Currently statewide, only about 36.8% of students scored proficient or higher on the Forward Exam, meaning the majority of students are falling behind. Reading problems cut across all socioeconomic and racial lines,” the report states. “This paper takes advantage of a new dataset available from the Department of Public Instruction that details the curricula used in each district around the state. We correlate reading outcomes on the Forward Exam with some two of the most widely criticized curricula that rely on “Whole Language” techniques – Lucy Calkins and Fountas and Pinnell.”

The report details the gap in schools that use whole language lessons. WILL says 44% of schools in Wisconsin continue to teach one of the two methods.

“On our variables of interest, we see a strong, negative relationship between Lucy Calkins and proficiency,” the report stated. “Schools that utilize Lucy Calkins would be expected to have proficiency rates of 2.1% lower on average than schools that use other methods.”

Wisconsin’s public schools have trouble with reading. More than 59% of students are less than proficient in reading, and the state posts the worst racial achievement gap of any state in the nation when it comes to reading.

WILL’s report doesn’t break-down the racial gap, though it does acknowledge it, and the WILL report doesn’t take a look at schools that use phonics-based reading lessons.

“This report does not provide a comprehensive answer to the question of what does work in Wisconsin schools. Many curricula better aligned with the science of reading are used in far too few schools for us to include them in the statistical model above and see significant results,” the authors noted. “Far more work is needed in this area using student-level data, rather than the school-level data.”

Wisconsin is moving away from whole language reading curricula.

A new state law, signed by Gov. Tony Evers in July, will push the state back toward phonics-based reading lessons.

WILL’s report ends on that note, saying that finding a new way of teaching reading is just what Wisconsin school children need.

“The reality that 40% of Wisconsin elementary schools are still using curricula that the evidence shows is ineffectual, should be a cause of concern for parents, policymakers, and educators,” the report concludes. “A comprehensive reading policy that mandates schools make use of science-aligned curricula, coupled with a strong retention policy that requires students falling below certain thresholds on the Forward Exam be held back, is needed in this state. Anything less is a disservice to a generation of Wisconsin students who are in desperate need of help in learning to read.”

The Facts Inside Our Reporter's Notebook


Just the News Spotlight

Support Just the News