Wisconsin Dyslexia Roadmap

We can achieve equity through literacy for all.

Literacy is a civil right.

“In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be available to all on equal terms" (1954 - Brown vs Board of Education).

"Illiteracy is an enduring disability. The inability to read and write will handicap the individual deprived of a basic education each and every day of his life” (1981 - Plyler v. Doe).

“The right to a basic minimum education – one that can plausibly impart literacy,” is a fundamental right protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (2020 - Gary B. v. Snyder).

Wisconsin Reading Achievement

Wisconsin reading achievement has statistically decreased since 1992, while other states have steadily improved.

Figure 1. Wisconsin 4th Grade Reading Results on the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). (Wisconsin Reading Coalition, 2022).

Since 1992, Wisconsin's national ranking in reading achievement has dropped from 3rd to 27th. 

Figure 2. Wisconsin Reading Coalition (2022).

Additional analysis of Wisconsin's reading achievement is available from the Wisconsin Reading Coalition.

The challenge Wisconsin is experiencing in reading achievement shows up in tests of reading comprehension, but unquestionably involves weakness in underlying word recognition skills. Findings from the 2018 NAEP Oral Reading Fluency Study confirmed that reading comprehension depends on the ability to read text fluently and accurately.

NAEP Assessment Data is not yet available to compare the initial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Wisconsin students and students from other states. However, results from the 2020 Wisconsin Forward, ACT Aspire, and ACT exams indicate a continuing downward trend. Note, the Forward and ACT Aspire exams were not administered in spring of 2019.

Forward Proficiency - Grades 3-8 (Trends) - English Language Arts (ELA)

Figure 3. Trend of WI students in grades 3-8 that have performed at proficient and advanced levels on the Wisconsin Forward Exam for English Language Arts. District trends available on WISEdash Public Portal.

ACT Aspire Proficiency - Grades 9 and 10 (Trends) - English Language Arts (ELA)

Figure 4. Trend of WI students in grades 9 and 10 that have performed at proficient and advanced levels on the ACT Aspire exam for English Language Arts. District trends available on WISEdash Public Portal.


"Equity means every learner has access to the resources and rigor they need at the right moment in their education, despite race, gender, ethnicity, language, disability, family background, or family income (CCSSO, 2017). In nearly every measurable area (i.e.: academic achievement, discipline practices, gifted and talented placement, and graduation rates) across all ages and grades, Wisconsin's educational system has yielded persistent inequitable outcomes for learners across demographic lines. In particular, learners of color, learners with disabilities, English learners, and learners eligible for free and reduced lunch have experienced significantly lower rates of success than their white non-disabled non-native speaking, middle-income peers across the state."

Wisconsin's Framework for Equitable Multi-Level Systems of Support , 2017, p. 7

Widening Achievement Gaps in Wisconsin

School closures, varied attendance and instructional models, along with other impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated already increasing achievement gaps among Wisconsin students. In 2020-2021, 13.3% of Wisconsin 3rd-8th grade students did not complete the Wisconsin Forward English Language Arts assessment. Of the 3rd-8th grade students taking the 2020 English Language Arts Forward Exam, 33.7% of ALL students scored proficient. As shown in Figure 6, large gaps exist in the proficiency percentages of various student subgroups:

Forward Performance Category by Race/Ethnicity (2021-22) - English Language Arts

Figure 6. Percentage of students in each performance category on the 2021-22 Forward or DLM (alternate) English Language Arts Assessment. From Wisedash Public Portal.

Equity includes learners with characteristics of dyslexia. Dyslexic learners exist within and across every demographic by which Wisconsin student achievement data can currently be categorized. Inequities for Wisconsin students with dyslexia cannot yet be fully measured because the state lacks consistent administration and reporting of standardized assessments of word reading accuracy or reading fluency.

Dyslexia affects 20% of the population and represents 80-90% of all those with learning disabilities. It is the most common of all neurocognitive disorders.

Yale University (Shaywitz, 2020)

Estimates of the frequency of dyslexia in the population vary depending on how it is being defined and where the cut score is set. The Yale Connecticut Longitudinal Study found that about 20% (1:5) of students are dyslexic, yet only about 6% are identified to receive school services for their reading difficulty (Shaywitz, 2020).

For Black Wisconsin students in particular, continued denial of the existence and impact of dyslexia has lasting negative individual, societal, economic, and health impacts.

(17:45) Shawn Anthony Robinson, PhD, is a Faculty Member at Madison College, a Senior Research Associate in the Wisconsin’s Equity and Inclusion Laboratory (Wei LAB) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and serves on the Board of Directors with the International Dyslexia Association. In this Ted Talk he shares his experience Learning to read: From failure to success.

"Within this context, national reports continue to highlight Black boys in fourth grade being behind in reading and functioning only at the basic level. Literacy instruction that is based on the Science of Reading is extremely critical as it provides the necessary skills instrumental for students to learn to read properly, allowing them to become contributors in their communities and throughout life. Unfortunately, many students who are “warehoused” in Special Education, particularly Black boys, may never “escape” or receive access to high-quality literacy instruction during their academic journey, which places them in dead-end situations or on the pipeline to prison track."

Dr. Shawn Anthony Robinson - Unpacking Systematic Barriers for Black Boys with a Learning Disability in Special Education

Many current teaching practices do not address all the essential components of literacy. Reading instruction and assessment in some of our classrooms hinder academic and life success for minority students, those with disadvantaged backgrounds, and those with learning disabilities including dyslexia. The same reading instruction practices also do not support the optimal growth of our most advantaged students.

Resources alone cannot address the side effects of ineffective language and literacy practices. However, resources would be well-spent implementing evidence-aligned practices that could address the root causes.

Educational systems can be redesigned to systematically assess foundational reading skills, identify characteristics of dyslexia, and adequately respond to those needs. Decision-making that does not consider reading difficulties undermines other educational equity efforts and unintentionally contributes to inequitable conditions, systems, and outcomes for all students.

The Science of Reading

Reading achievement gaps, calls for equity, and recognition that reading instruction can align to science have increased awareness of the Science of Reading (SOR) , creating an opportunity to improve alignment of resources, assessment, instruction, and intervention.

Brain scientists have uncovered important information about human development and how we learn to read. Applying the SoR to teaching practices and educational systems improves educational outcomes and equity for all learners. 

Systems change can shift historical practices, roles, staffing, and budgets. It requires training, new mental models, and change management. 

It is a journey worth the investment.

This WI Dyslexia Roadmap features knowledge and practices necessary for Wisconsin schools to provide the evidence-aligned language and literacy assessment and instruction that is essential for increasing equitable outcomes for ALL Wisconsin learners. Together we can achieve equity through literacy.

Dr. Louisa Moats describes the Science of Reading as “the emerging consensus from many related disciplines, based on literally thousands of studies, supported by hundreds of millions of research dollars, conducted across the world in many languages. These studies have revealed a great deal about how we learn to read, what goes wrong when students don’t learn, and what kind of instruction is most likely to work the best for the most students" (2019).

The Ladder of Reading & Writing

Nancy Young’s Ladder of Reading & Writing illustrates that 40% -45% of children learn to read fairly easily, regardless of the type of instruction they receive. This correlates with the roughly 40% reading proficiency rate in the United States. Facets of structured literacy are likely valuable for these students. In addition, extended learning and enrichment are likely essential for 5-10%. 

Code-based, systematic, and explicit instruction, or structured literacy, is likely essential for the remaining 60% of students to become skilled readers. Structured literacy practices along with frequent repetitions and review are likely essential for 10 to 15% of students.

Figure 7. From Code Talk by Nancy Young, used with Nancy Young's permission (2021).

Depending on school population, these percentages vary. A suburban district with fewer at-risk students along with family ability to afford outside intervention might have 60-70% of its students in the green range, and they will show higher percentages of proficiency on standardized testing. 

Districts with more at-risk students, unable to provide intervention at that scale, with families who are less able to access outside intervention, may have 80 to 85% of their students in the orange and red range.

Structured literacy is essential for many, and valuable for most; the primary difference among learners is the speed at which foundational reading skills are acquired.

Additional information about The Ladder of Reading & Writing, including terms defined and references, is available on Nancy Young's blog.

Dyslexia Connection: Students with dyslexia and other reading struggles represent 10-15% of the school population and require intensive structured literacy instruction along with frequent repetitions. A school with a core reading program that aligns with structured literacy enables children with dyslexia to make more progress in the general education classroom and also reinforces what they might be learning in intervention or special education.

High Impact Instruction Can Overcome External Factors

John Hattie, professor at University of Melbourne, Australia, has examined and synthesized more than 1,700 meta-analyses related to student learning, including more than 100,000 studies involving 300 million students from around the world. Hattie continues to update and publish his findings on Visible Learning and has currently identified over 250 influences with both positive and negative effects on learning outcomes. 

Hattie's research quantifies the impact of external factors (students, families, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and health) and the impact of educational practices (school, classroom, teacher, curricula, and technology). His research illustrates that literacy instruction can overcome the impact of external factors. Schools can achieve their primary mission of equity through literacy.

The Barometer of Influence

Hattie's research identifies a score or “effect size” for each influence, according to its impact on student learning and taking into account aspects such as implementation cost. The average effect size is 0.4, a marker that represents a year’s growth per year of schooling for a student. Anything above 0.4 would have a greater positive effect on student learning.

Impact of Various Effect Sizes

-0.01 or lower - Likely to have a negative impact

0.1- 0.19 - Likely to have a small positive impact

0.20 - 0.39 - Likely to have positive impact

0.40 effect size - one year's growth per year of schooling

0.40-0.59 - Potential to accelerate

0.60-1.5 - Potential to considerably accelerate

Effects of External Factors

 0.57 - Emotional Intelligence

0.51 - Socioeconomic Status

0.45 - Attitude toward content domain

0.43 - Exposure to reading (at school & home)

0.42 - Parental Involvement

0.40 - one year's growth per year of schooling

0.38 - Preschool Programs (birth to K)

0.22 - Intact, two-parent families

0.16 - Family Structure

0.12 - Positive Ethnicity Self-Identity

0.10 - Initial teacher education programs

0.05 - Immigrant Status

0.03 - Parent employment

-0.02 - Lack of Sleep 

-0.18 - Television hours

-0.29 - Depression

-0.30 - School Mobility 

-0.36 - Anxiety

-0.07 - FaceTime and Social Media (home & school)

Effects of School & Teacher Practices

1.36 - Collective teacher efficacy (PLC Process)

1.09 - Response to Intervention (MLSS/MTSS/RTI)

0.92 - Feedback (Reinforcement and cues)

0.84 - Teacher Clarity

0.65 - Feedback

0.59 - Appropriately Challenging Goals

0.51 - Clear goal intentions

0.42 - Teacher Expectations

0.40 - one year's growth per year of schooling

0.37 - Professional development programs

0.35 - Social Skills Programs

0.34 - Decreasing disruptive behavior

0.33 - School Counseling

0.28 - Homework

0.21 - Finances

0.18 - Reducing class size

0.12 - Positive Ethnicity Self-Identity (Culturally Responsive Practices)

Visible Learning Metax has the most up-to-date Visible Learning research, interpretations, and analyses — making it possible to understand the research and apply it to close the gap between the research and instructional practice supporting equity through literacy.

Videos: Is My Child Learning To Read?

Virtual learning resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic made the strategies of struggling readers and skilled readers more visible to parents. 

The experience of the first-grade reader in these videos illustrates the impact balanced literacy and structured literacy practices have on equity. Reading assessment and instruction that do not align with the Science of Reading contribute to widening achievement gaps, while evidence-based practices support equity through literacy.

Equity Through Literacy Reflection Tool

Use the WI Dyslexia Roadmap Equity Through Literacy Reflection Tool to identify policies and practices that inhibit or accelerate success and inform strategic planning over time.

WI Dyslexia Roadmap - Equity through Literacy Reflection Tool.pdf

Podcasts & Videos About Literacy, Equity, & The Science of Reading

Additional Resources


Corwin Visible Learning Plus. (2021, August). Visible Learning Metax. https://www.visiblelearningmetax.com/

International Dyslexia Association. (2018). Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading. https://dyslexiaida.org/knowledge-and-practices/

Moats, L. (2019, October 16). Of ‘Hard Words’ and Straw Men: Let’s Understand What Reading Science is Really About. Voyager Sopris Learning. https://www.voyagersopris.com/blog/edview360/2019/10/16/lets-understand-what-reading-science-is-really-about

Robinson, S. A. (2020, June 7). Unpacking Systematic Barriers for Black Boys with a Learning Disability in Special Education. Doctor Dyslexia Dude Blog. https://doctordyslexiadude.blogspot.com/2020/06/unpacking-systematic-barriers-for-black_7.html

The Reading League. (2020, August). Curriculum Evaluation Tool. https://www.thereadingleague.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Curriculum-Evaluation-Tool-August-2020.pdf

Shaywitz, S. (2020). Overcoming dyslexia (2020 edition): Second edition, completely revised and updated (2nd ed.). Vintage.

Wisconsin Council of Administrators of Special Services (WCASS). (2021, April). WCASS Guide: How to Provide Students with IEPs Access to Their Grade Level Curriculum Through Text to Speech. Wisconsin Council of Administrators of Special Services. https://wcass.memberclicks.net/wcass-guide

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. (2020, September). Foundational Reading Skills Tool (FRST): A Self-Assessment Tool for Reading Instruction Kindergarten through Grade Two. https://dpi.wi.gov/sites/default/files/imce/reading/FRST_Final_Copy_-_Public.pdf

Wisconsin RtI Center Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. (2017, June 30). Wisconsin’s Framework for Equitable Multi-Level Systems of Supports. Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. https://dpi.wi.gov/sites/default/files/imce/rti/pdf/rti-emlss-framework.pdf

Wisconsin Reading Coalition. (2019). Wisconsin 4th Grade Reading Results on the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). https://drive.google.com/file/d/1drL4Ojpu1lV5P6xeb9lRKK5Q8xTzluQi/view

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. (2020). WISEdash Public Portal: Wisconsin's Information System for Education Data Dashboard. https://wisedash.dpi.wi.gov/Dashboard/dashboard/16840

US Department of Education. (2019). NAEP Report Card: Reading. https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/reading?grade=4

US Department of Education. (2021, April). The 2018 NAEP Oral Reading Fluency Study. https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/subject/studies/pdf/2021025_2018_orf_study.pdf

Young, N. (2021, November 24). My Ladder of Reading & Writing – A Synopsis of the Update! Code Talk by Nancy Young. Retrieved January 6, 2022, from https://www.nancyyoung.ca/blog


Figure 1. Wisconsin Reading Coalition. (2022). NAEP Raw Scores Over Time [Graph]. Wisconsin Reading Coalition. https://www.wisconsinreadingcoalition.org/ 

Figure 2. Wisconsin Reading Coalition. (2022). National Ranking Over Time [Graph]. Wisconsin Reading Coalition. https://www.wisconsinreadingcoalition.org/ 

Figure 3. Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. (2022). Forward Proficiency - Grades 3–8 (Trends) - English Language Arts (ELA) [Graph]. WISEdash Public Portal. https://wisedash.dpi.wi.gov/Dashboard/dashboard/19861

Figure 4. Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. (2022). ACT Aspire Proficiency - Grades 9 and 10 (Trends) - English Language Arts (ELA) [Graph]. WISEdash Public Portal. https://wisedash.dpi.wi.gov/Dashboard/dashboard/19861 

Figure 5. Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. (2022). ACT Proficiency - Grade 11 (Trends) - English Language Arts (ELA) [Graph]. WISEdash Public Portal. https://wisedash.dpi.wi.gov/Dashboard/dashboard/19861 

Figure 6. Wisconsin Department of Public Education. (2022). Forward Performance Category by Race/Ethnicity (2020-21) - English Language Arts [Graph]. WISEdash Public Portal. https://wisedash.dpi.wi.gov/Dashboard/dashboard/19948

Figure 7. Young, N. (2021, November 24). The Ladder of Reading & Writing [Infographic]. From My Ladder of Reading & Writing – A Synopsis of the Update! Code Talk by Nancy Young. Retrieved January 6, 2022, from https://www.nancyyoung.ca/blog

Figure 8. Visible Learning Plus. (2019, June 11). John Hattie’s research, #Visiblelearning, is the culmination of more than 25 years of examining and synthesizing 1,600+ meta-analyses comprising 95,000+ [Facebook status update]. Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/visiblelearning/photos/john-hatties-research-visiblelearning-is-the-culmination-of-more-than-25-years-o/2736121676463219/