OTHER OPINION: Reading success in Wisconsin’s kindergartens

Nearly nine out of 10 kindergartners in Wisconsin are prepared for classroom reading instruction.

That’s encouraging. It suggests the vast majority of kindergartners showed up for school last fall with basic literacy skills, such as letter and letter sound recognition. Children learn to read during the first few years of school. Then they read to learn.

Gov. Scott Walker wants to expand early literacy testing across Wisconsin, which makes sense. That will allow educators to quickly identify students for extra help. And if those students continue to struggle, more follow-up can occur.

Eighty-nine percent of kindergartners met the benchmark for the literacy screening last fall, the first time it has been administered statewide. Dane County posted the same percentage, with local districts ranging from 84 percent in Madison to 99 percent in Marshall and Deerfield.

Racine had the smallest percentage of students meeting the benchmark at 74 percent. The State Journal obtained the results under Wisconsin’s open records law. The state Department of Public Instruction didn’t plan to publish the test scores because they weren’t intended for comparisons between districts.

But more information on how our children are doing at learning – before and after they enter kindergarten – should help target resources and prompt action.

Students may lack the skills necessary for learning because of inadequate experience with literacy, a special education need or slow development, said UW-Madison education professor Beth Graue.

Locally, the United Way of Dane County and CUNA Mutal Group Foundation have helped hundreds of young families get ready for kindergarten in recent years. Families receive home visits from early learning specialists through Children’s Service Society of Wisconsin. The specialists help parents encourage positive learning activities and behavior.

Just getting books into the hands of preschool children can make a difference. Wisconsin’s keen focus on early learning and development must continue and expand.

Wisconsin State Journal, Madison

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