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 fourth installment of our literacy policy breakdown, we will cover the states that ranked 20 through 11.



20. Maine (2017: 30th)

3rdGrade Retention Law? Allowed, but not required.

Dyslexia Screening Legislation? Yes.

Maine enacted a law a few years ago to ensure that schoolchildren with dyslexia receive the assistance they need. In the bill, Maine defines dyslexia as:

“A specific learning disability that is neurological in origin and characterized by difficulties with accurate or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities that typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and to the provision of effective classroom instruction the secondary consequences of which may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”

The bill requires that schools must annually screen students from kindergarten to grade 2 for dyslexia, as well as any students who have not previously been screened or have transferred from another state.

The school must also screen students in grades 3 to 12 who have difficulty in one of the following areas:


Lastly, the bill requires a dyslexia consultant to be on staff to serve as the primary source of information and support from school administrative units. The consultant must provide schools with dyslexia professional awareness training including the indicators of dyslexia and the science behind teaching a student with dyslexia.

The training must include courses specifically designed to provide structure language intervention techniques, which includes:


19. North Carolina (2017: 18th)

3rdGrade Retention Law? Yes.

Dyslexia Screening Legislation? No. 

North Carolina introduced the Excellent Public Schools Act of 2019 this past year (SB 438). The act modified the implementation of the state’s Read to Achieve Program to attain statewide reading proficiency by the third grade.

It stated the kindergarten, first, second, and third-grade students shall receive high-quality core reading instruction and be assessed with universal screening measures for literacy.

Among the additions to the program was an Individual Reading Plan (IRP) that shall be developed for any student identified to be below grade level based on the results of their assessment. The IRP shall include the following:


The bill also required the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT) to prioritize early learning and literacy instruction by increasing the number of teachers participating in their evidence-based professional development programs.

This bill was vetoed by Governor Roy Cooper. His veto message is below:

“Teaching children to read well is a critical goal for their future success, but recent evaluations show that Read to Achieve is ineffective and costly. A contract dispute over the assessment tool adds to uncertainty for educators and parents. This legislation tries to put a Bad-Aid on a program where implementation has clearly failed.”

18. Montana (2017: 24th)

3rdGrade Retention Law? No.

Dyslexia Screening Legislation? Yes.

Montana enacted SB0140 in July of 2019, which is cited as the “Montana Dyslexia Screening and Intervention Act”.

The act addressed dyslexia in Montana by providing a definition of dyslexia and requiring school districts to screen students and address the needs of students identified with dyslexia. The screening instrument must be designed to assess developmentally appropriate phonological and phonemic awareness skills.

Furthermore, it requires the office of public instruction to provide guidance to school districts in identifying and serving students with dyslexia.

You can read more about the law and its impact on the community here.

Montana also formed a legislative finance committee to study the fiscal issues regarding education. Specifically, the committee must direct a study on K-12 special education funding as well as community college funding and postsecondary career and technical education credit values.

17. Indiana (2017: 9th)

3rdGrade Retention Law? Yes.

Dyslexia Screening Legislation? Yes.

In 2011, Indiana signed a law that stated to be licensed as an elementary teacher, individuals must be able to demonstrate comprehensive scientifically based reading instruction skills. Specifically, these areas include:


Senate Bill 217 was enrolled in 2018 and is aimed at identifying students who may be affected by dyslexia. It requires that every school’s reading plans have to include indicators to screen for dyslexia risk factors. If a student is deemed to be at-risk, the school must administer a dyslexia screening test.

It also required each school to employ at least one authorized reading specialist trained in dyslexia by this current school year (2019-2020).

Indiana also expanded its early education grant pilot program to include an additional 15 counties. In addition, it gave grants to eligible providers for prekindergarten pilot programs.

16. Vermont (2017: 8th)

3rdGrade Retention Law? No.

Dyslexia Screening Legislation? No.

Vermont’s reading scores have been declining over the last two years, however, the state had not reacted with any laws relating to literacy until very recently.

In January 2020, Senators Cheryl Hooker and Debbie Ingram introduced a bill related to structured literacy and dyslexia. While the bill has not been passed yet, it contains many components that are vital to literacy instruction.

The bill would require that all students enrolled in Vermont public schools must be screened for dyslexia during the fall semester of kindergarten. Students must also be screened during the spring semester of kindergarten, first grade, and second grade if a student does not meet the literacy standards for those grades.

If a student is identified as having dyslexia, the school must do the following:


The bill also states that the Vermont Standards Board of Professional Educators must evaluate the state’s teacher preparation programs. Specifically, the board must determine the effectiveness of teacher training to provide reading instruction for all students. This includes the use of evidence-based structured literacy instruction for students in kindergarten-grade three and students with dyslexia. 

15. Ohio (2017: 10th)

3rdGrade Retention Law? Yes.

Dyslexia Screening Legislation? No.

Ohio developed a literacy development framework in 2012 titled Striving Readers State Literacy Plan: Reading into the Future. As the progress of that plan was monitored through the following years, Ohio created a State Literacy Team in 2017 to update the state’s literacy plan.

The result was Ohio’s Plan to Raise Literacy Achievement which was published in January 2018.

The State Literacy Team reconvened again in 2019 to reflect on the last two years of literacy development and update the plan.

The recommendations of the team include the following:

Based on these and other recommendations, Ohio published its updated Plan to Raise Literacy Achievement in January 2020.

Two of the main takeaways in the updated plan are Ohio’s commitment to multi-tiered systems of supports for reading instruction and enhancing educators’ knowledge of the science of reading.

Another important addition to the plan is Ohio is using the Simple View of Reading (Gough & Tunmer, 1986) to drive all literacy content and development. Several research studies have validated the formula, which states reading comprehension is made up of two basic components: decoding (word recognition) and language comprehension (oral language).

14. South Dakota (2017: 26th)

3rdGrade Retention Law? No.

Dyslexia Screening Legislation? No.

In 2018, South Dakota updated its State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy. The detailed plan focuses on the shared responsibility for students’ literacy development, focus and coherence in instruction and assessment, and formative and summative assessment among other things.

The standards break down the foundational skills of reading into four major components:


South Dakota breaks down the foundational skills for reading into individual concepts that students must learn by each grade. For instance, in kindergarten, students must be able to demonstrate one-to-one letter-sound correspondence by producing the primary sound for each consonant (phonics & word recognition).

By grade 3, students must be able to identify and know the meaning of the most common prefixes and derivational suffixes (phonics & word recognition).

South Dakota also has separate grade-by-grade standards for writing, speaking & listening, language,

13. Nebraska (2017: 16th)

3rdGrade Retention Law? No.

Dyslexia Screening Legislation? No.

Nebraska has recently introduced a handful of laws relating to early learning and literacy. LB160 was enacted in March 2019 and added early childhood infrastructure development as an eligible activity in an economic development program. This bill makes it much easier for early childhood care and education programs to qualify as businesses.

In 2018, the Nebraska legislature enacted LB1081 which established both reading assessments and supplemental reading intervention programs. It specifically states that each school district must administer an approved reading assessment three times during the school year to all students in kindergarten through grade three.

Also in 2018, the state passed LB1052 which required students who are diagnosed as exhibiting characteristics of dyslexia are provided evidence-based structured literacy instruction. The instruction must include multi-sensory approaches and school districts cannot require students to obtain a medical diagnosis to receive intervention.

Moreover, the Nebraska Department of Education (NDOE) was tasked with developing a technical assistance document for dyslexia. The document contains indicators for dyslexia, screening and evaluation processes, and instruction and intervention methods. The technical assistance document that the NDOE currently has on its website can be found here.

Lastly, LB1052 required that each teacher education program approved by the state must include instruction in dyslexia. This includes:


12. Minnesota (2017: 15th)

3rdGrade Retention Law? Allowed, but not required.

Dyslexia Screening Legislation? Yes.

Minnesota passed several statutes in 2019 relating to literacy and reading proficiency. The state added onto its third-grade reading law stating that teachers must provide comprehensive, scientifically-based reading instruction.

Minnesota statutes also state that the program must include effective, balanced instruction in all five areas of reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary development, and reading comprehension. The programs also must include instructional strategies for continuously assessing, evaluating, and communicating the student’s reading progress and needs.

The state also requires that students identified s not reading at grade level in Kindergarten through grade two must be screened for characteristics of dyslexia. If a student is identified with characteristics of dyslexia, districts must use evidence-based intervention methods and individual reading plans until the student is reading at grade level.

Lastly, each district must identify staff development needs so that elementary teachers have sufficient training to provide comprehensive, scientifically based reading instruction in the areas of phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

11. Idaho (2017: 22nd)

3rdGrade Retention Law? No.

Dyslexia Screening Legislation? No.

In 2017, Idaho enacted HB105 which stated that higher education institutions must have course offerings and graduation requirements that are consistent with the state board-approved, research-based Idaho Comprehensive Literacy Plan.

It also states that these institutions are responsible for the pre-service assessment measures for all kindergarten through grade 12 teacher preparation programs. The assessment must include a demonstration of teaching skills and knowledge congruent with current research on best reading practices.

Lastly, the bill states that all Idaho teachers coming from out of state must complete a state-approved reading instruction course as a one-time requirement for full certification.

The Idaho Comprehensive Literacy Plan lays a good framework for the state’s literacy instruction. The 45-page document identifies the five essential reading components as phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and text comprehension.

It also puts focus on research-based interventions and systematic, explicit instruction. It lays out how teachers shall use a wide variety of information about their students to develop individualized instruction that addresses students’ unique needs.

Overall, the essential elements of the Idaho Comprehensive Literacy Plan are broken down into the following four areas:

  1. Collaborative Leadership
  2. Developing Professional Educators
  3. Effective Instruction & Intervention
  4. Assessment & Data

Executive Summary

In our final installment of this series, we will look at the states that rank 10 through 1. Some of the states that will be featured include Florida, Colorado, Virginia, and Massachusetts.

Additional Resources

Improving Literacy

Dyslexia Laws 2019

Education Commission of the States

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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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