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Wisconsin Lawmakers Want Reading Comprehension Screening to Begin at Pre-kindergarten

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“We are 42nd out of 42 states in the racial achievement gap. I don’t like being in last place.” – Rep. Bob Whitke

The Assembly’s Committee on Education on Tuesday listened to experts about a proposal that would require schools to screen children for reading readiness starting in pre-kindergarten.

Kids in Wisconsin public schools could soon be screened for reading at much earlier ages, and much more often.

The Assembly’s Committee on Education on Tuesday listened to experts about a proposal that would require schools to screen children for reading readiness starting in pre-kindergarten.

“This bill requires school boards and independent charter schools to assess the early literacy skill of pupils in four-year-old-kindergarten to second grade using various screening assessments and to create a personal reading plan for each pupil in five-year-old kindergarten to second grade who is identified as at-risk,” the legislation reads.

“We have generations of kids who are missing opportunities because we can’t get them to read by the time they’re in the third grade,” Rep. Bob Whitke, R-Racine, told lawmakers Tuesday. “We are 42nd out of 42 states in the racial achievement gap. I don’t like being in last place.”

Lawmakers say kids are falling behind earlier in school because they cannot read. The legislation is intended to boost reading scores before it’s too late.

The legislation offers schools money to cover the testing, but only if they report the number of students who are behind in reading both to the state and to parents.

Lawmakers are promising to move ahead with the legislation, but are not saying when they expect to vote.

But there’s some pushback to the idea of screening kids early to help them read later on.

Ben Niehaus with Wisconsin’s Association of School Boards told lawmakers they are worried about the costs, both in terms of money and time.

“We wholeheartedly believe the [legislation is] well intentioned,” Niehaus said. “Yet we are concerned with where we’re at right now…. Some of the funding pieces of it. It’s looking to fall under the infamous ‘unfunded mandate.’”

Niehaus said he’s also worried about more testing. He said public schools now test kids for over 200 hours during their time between kindergarten and high school.

“For too long, Wisconsin’s K-12 system has churned out too many students who are not proficient in reading, causing a workforce crisis,” CJ Safer with the Institute for Reforming Government said. “This legislation transforms our childhood literacy policies by equipping parents and teachers with the information they need in order to ensure all students have the opportunity to succeed.”

But others say the status quo isn’t working, and it’s time to try something to help kids across Wisconsin read better.