Throughout this series, we will highlight literacy policies and trends in each US state (not including the District of Columbia). Instead of listing the states alphabetically or by region, they will be listed by their average 4thgrade reading scores, as reported by the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The states will appear in order from the worst score to the best, using the 2019 Nation’s Report Card.

In the third installment of our literacy policy breakdown, we will cover the states that ranked 30 through 21.


30. Kansas (2017: 20th)

3rdGrade Retention Law? No.

Dyslexia Screening Legislation? No.

In April of 2018, Kansas passed a bill that established the legislative task force of dyslexia. The purpose of the task force was to advise and make recommendations to the governor, legislature, and state board of education.

The recommendations were meant to address the use of evidence-based practices for students with dyslexia. In January of 2019, the 16-person committee presented its recommendations. The subcommittees on Pre-service and In-service Professional Development, Screening and Evaluation Process, and Evidence-Based Reading Practices shaped many of the suggestions.

Below are a few highlights from the reports:


Kansas also updated the Kansas State Literacy Plan in 2018, titled The Kansas Guide to Learning: Literacy.

29. Mississippi (2017: 44th)

3rdGrade Retention Law? Yes.

Dyslexia Screening Legislation? Yes.

In 2017, Mississippi expanded the eligibility of its Dyslexia Therapy Scholarship to include students in grades 1 through 12 (previously 1 through 6).

The program was established to give students with dyslexia the option to attend a public school other than the one assigned or to provide a scholarship to attend a nonpublic school of choice. This is to ensure that those diagnosed with dyslexia receive comprehensive multi-sensory instruction delivered by holders of an appropriate license.

According to the bill, “dyslexia therapy” is a program delivered by a licensed dyslexia therapist that is scientific, research-based, Orton-Gillingham based, and offered in a small group setting.

Among the components that must be included:


More importantly, and why Mississippi made such a big jump in this year’s rankings, the state is finally seeing the results of a long-term commitment to literacy. The Hechinger Report does a great job of showing how setting high expectations, examining current practices, involving third-party stakeholders, and committing to the plan have helped propel Mississippi’s reading scores.

Emily Hanford also analyzed Mississippi and its rising reading scores in a recent New York Times piece.

28. New York (2017: 25th)

3rdGrade Retention Law? No.

Dyslexia Screening Legislation? No.

In 2017, New York updated the state’s Early Childhood Advisory Council to include members appointed by the governor. The governor also selected two chairpersons to lead the council. The council has many responsibilities, including:

27. Washington (2017: 21st)

3rdGrade Retention Law? Yes.

Dyslexia Screening Legislation? Yes.

In 2018, Washington passed Senate Bill 6162 which defines dyslexia as a specific learning disability and requiring early screening for dyslexia. The bill states that each school district and charter school must screen each student in kindergarten and first grade for indications of dyslexia.

Each school district must also use evidence-based multitiered systems of support to students who display indications of dyslexia.

The state also passed several pieces of legislation (SB 5089, SB 5437, SB 6257) aimed at increasing early learning opportunities for all families, especially those that are low-income.

In 2018, Washington added legislature regarding support of reading and early literacy. It states the office of the superintendent of public instruction is responsible for establishing early literacy benchmarks and standards and to implement the Washington state comprehensive literacy plan.

It also called for the dissemination of research and information to schools about evidence-based reading programs and practices.

26. Wisconsin (2017: 33rd)

3rdGrade Retention Law? No.

Dyslexia Screening Legislation? No.

In 2019, Wisconsin legislators worked to create the state’s first dyslexia-specific law. The proposed bill would require the Department of Public Instruction to create a dyslexia guidebook meant for schools and parents.

Democrats argue that the bill’s definition of dyslexia is too narrowly defined and comes off as a one-size-fits-all approach. The Wisconsin State Reading Association (WSRA), a professional development group, has also formally opposed the dyslexia bill.

Politicians and organizations alike are wary of making a state statute that defines dyslexia. The WSRA wants to make the guidebook about all literacy and reading conditions, not just dyslexia.

The Senate committee still needs to vote on the bill, which would clear the way for a full Senate vote and Governor Tony Evers’ approval.

25. Maryland (2017: 12th)

3rdGrade Retention Law? Allowed, but not required.

Dyslexia Screening Legislation? Yes.

In 2019, Maryland passed Senate Bill 734 which requires that schools screen students for “certain reading difficulties.” It states the screening instrument shall be based on foundational reading skills that include phonological and phonemic awareness and processing.

The only time dyslexia is named in the bill is that each county board must provide resources on their website, including a checklist of early warning signs of reading difficulties and dyslexia by age. In the original bill, the department of education was tasked with creating a reading and dyslexia handbook, but it was eventually removed.

In 2018, the state created The Maryland Early Literacy Initiative. Its purpose is to:

24. Rhode Island (2017: 21st)

3rdGrade Retention Law? No.

Dyslexia Screening Legislation? Yes.

In 2019, Rhode Island passed the Right to Read Act which says the state’s educators must have proficient knowledge and skills to teach reading consistent with the best practices of scientific reading instruction and structured literacy instruction.

According to the bill, “scientific reading instruction” is instruction that is instructional centered, empirically based, and further based on the study of the relationship between cognitive science and educational outcomes. “Structured literacy instruction” is defined as an approach where licensed personnel teach reading. The approach teaches syllables, morphology, sound-symbol correspondence, semantics, and syntax in an explicit, systematic, and diagnostic manner.

Much of this bill is centered around the professional development of teachers. It requires all school districts to offer professional development programs based on scientific reading instruction to all relevant teachers starting in 2020. By 2023, professional development in reading instruction becomes mandatory for all new teachers.

The bill also requires the Department of Education to create an online professional development tool meant to assist educators in screening and intervention services for significant reading deficiencies, including dyslexia.

23. Iowa (2017: 19th)

3rdGrade Retention Law? Yes.

Dyslexia Screening Legislation? No.

While Iowa does not require dyslexia screening, the state did establish a dyslexia task force in 2018. The task force was assigned with submitting a report on its findings and recommendations relating to dyslexia response by November 15, 2019.

You can find the full report and list of recommendations here.

The state does have two codes in place that promote effective, evidence-based programming, instruction, and assessment practices. It requires that each school district must assess all students K-3 for their level of reading or reading readiness.

For students who are persistently at risk in reading, schools must provide intensive instruction, including 90 minutes daily of scientific, research-based reading instruction.

22. Kentucky (2017: 17th)

3rdGrade Retention Law? No.

Dyslexia Screening Legislation? Yes.

Kentucky passed a few laws relating to dyslexia in 2018. House Bill 187 required the Department of Education to create a dyslexia toolkit that contains guidance, training, and technical assistance aimed at implementing evidence-based practices.

House Bill 367 created a dyslexia trust fund administered by the Kentucky Department of Education. The purpose of the fund is to finance grants to local school districts for support of students identified by the characteristics of dyslexia.

Unfortunately, the educators in Kentucky are caught in the middle of a political battle in Kentucky’s education department. Governor-elect Andy Beshear has said that we would appoint a new state Board of Education on day one.

Current Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis has safe he would likely resign if Beshear were to replace all seven members on the new board of education.

The Lexington Herald covered this story extensively. In their reporting, they spoke with Brigitte Ramsey, an executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence. “Ramsey said Kentucky’s state board of education and the Commissioner of Education need to stabilize education so that educators can return to focusing on increasing the quality of teaching and learning in the classrooms, on outcomes for students, and focusing on closing achievement gaps.”

You can read the full story here.

21. North Dakota (2017: 28th)

3rdGrade Retention Law? No.

Dyslexia Screening Legislation? Yes.

In May 2019, North Dakota enacted House Bill 1461 which defines dyslexia and established a dyslexia specialist position, pilot program, and screening and intervention requirements.

Specifically, it requires each public elementary school to administer dyslexia screening to each student by the end of second grade. The instruction that students identified as having dyslexia must include instruction that is:


The bill also requires that at least once a year, schools districts must provide a minimum of one hour of professional development to its elementary school teachers and administrators that must include the following:


The state also revised its comprehensive literacy instruction plan in 2019. The North Dakota Department of Public Instruction also introduced a five-year development project aimed at supporting the development of children who have previously been underserved.

There is currently a significant gap in reading achievement between Native American students and other students.

Executive Summary

In our next installment of this series, we will look at the states that rank 20 through 11. Some of the states that will be featured include North Carolina, Ohio, Montana, and Vermont.

Additional Resources

Improving Literacy

Dyslexia Laws 2019

Education Commission of the States

IMSE believes that all children should be able to read. To achieve this end, IMSE wants to bring Orton-Gillingham to all educators to give children the best literacy instruction possible.

Learn more about what you can do to improve literacy for all using the Institute for Multi-Sensory Education’s Orton-Gillingham training.

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