The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction launched the Wisconsin Reading Excellence and Demonstration of Success (READS) initiative in 1999–2000 to help schools implement comprehensive reading programs. The primary goals of the initiative were to increase student achievement and reduce special education referral rates in READS-funded schools. The READS initiative awarded grants to approximately 85 schools annually between 1999 and 2004, with an average grant award per school of $12,879. Most schools that were awarded grants through the READS initiative were elementary schools, and the majority of these schools were located in rural areas.
The READS Initiative Evaluation
The four-year comprehensive evaluation of the READS initiative focuses on both program implementation and impact. The evaluation team administered surveys to READS project directors and participating teachers; conducted annual site visits to a sample of schools; analyzed extant data; and conducted longitudinal analysis of special education referral rates and student demographic and achievement data. The evaluation resulted in the following key findings:
- Special education referral rates declined at a substantially greater rate in READS schools compared to Wisconsin state averages.
- There was a small, positive impact on reading achievement of READS students; although, there were no school-level effects on reading achievement.
- READS participation was not related to improved attendance or reduced retention in grade, suspension, or expulsion rates.
- Factors associated with successful implementation included supportive environments for teacher learning, resulting in the development of professional learning communities among teachers.