• School Success

    School Success

The Issue

There is an old saying, "Until third grade, children learn to read; after third grade, they read to learn." As the years pass, students who are not proficient readers in third grade risk falling behind their peers—resulting in a consistently larger achievement gap year after year.

Currently, only 15% of third grade students across the City of Milwaukee demonstrate reading proficiency on the State administered reading assessment, making Milwaukee one of the lowest performing cities in the country. Those results are even more alarming considering that reading proficiently by the end of 3rd grade is a determining factor in a child’s long term academic success.

If we do not invest and refocus our resources to address our reading crisis, we will perpetuate the growing poverty challenges facing our community.

The Potential

We can change that outcome. The partners involved in Milwaukee Succeeds, have collaborated to develop a model for achieving reading proficiency by 3rd grade called Transformative Reading Instruction (TRI).

TRI creates readers by providing intensive evidence-based coaching to K-2 teachers on foundational reading and social emotional skills; this coaching is then aligned with tutoring, parent engagement workshops, and experiential learning opportunities.

Results from early pilot efforts are promising and key stakeholders are committed to realizing the model’s full potential. Implemented with fidelity, the model could take us from one of the lowest performing urban districts to one of the top performing urban districts by 2020, setting the stage for even greater subsequent success.

The Plan

Our community recognized the importance of this milestone early in the formation of Milwaukee Succeeds. In 2012, using a collective impact approach, networks of local partner organizations, agencies, businesses, and schools formed around three critical areas: in-school time, out-of-school time, and parent engagement. These networks identified the issue, researched best local and national practices, and developed a strategy. The product of this work is our Transformative Reading Instruction (TRI) model.

Milwaukee Succeeds and partners across sectors have developed a three year implementation plan to begin the initial stages of scaling the model, putting our partners on pace to reach the first milestone target of 2,000 more proficient readers by 2020. This plan details a strategy to implement TRI in 37 schools by 2017.

Transformative Reading Instruction

TRI includes a number of critical, symbiotic components that result in improved outcomes for students.

  • Evidence-based professional development targeting K-2nd grade teachers focused on specific foundational reading skill gaps, as demonstrated by data. The professional development will embed techniques to reduce classroom disruptions and facilitate effective delivery of the reading instruction.
  • In-classroom coaching from a qualified professional to model, co-teach, observe, and provide feedback on the strategies in practice.
  • Evidence-based interventions such as small group and 1:1 tutoring to help students who may need additional support to master specific reading skills.
  • Parent engagement strategies, such as workshops, to reinforce reading skills, attendance, and effective communication with the school, ideally organized through a paid parent coordinator.
  • Experiential opportunities for students to reinforce vocabulary and content.
  • Data-driven progress monitoring of students that is shared across teachers and providers.
  • A plan to ensure alignment across each strategy aimed at improving reading outcomes.
  • Committed Leadership willing to adapt - based on data, feedback, and changing needs.

Evidence Basis

Each of these components has its own framework of best practices. The model has been and will continue to be informed by:

  • National evidence demonstrating the efficacy of each strategy to improve reading outcomes.
  • Quantitative data from established local initiatives as well as early results from local pilot sites.
  • Qualitative feedback from teachers, administrators, providers, and researchers about the impact of the strategies on students’ reading ability and engagement, as well as their feedback on the importance of aligning efforts and tracking data.

Milwaukee Succeeds has partnered with the UW-Milwaukee School of Education to ensure a rigorous evaluation of the TRI initiative. These efforts have included the development of a research framework to test the TRI model, systems for scale up in additional schools and formal evaluation of implementation fidelity and program outcomes. UW-Milwaukee’s role has included an in-kind contribution of more than 1,000 hours of research and project support.


Since its pilot at one school during the spring semester of the 2013-14 school year, the TRI model has demonstrated very promising results. The number of students on-track for third grade reading proficiency has measurably increased at a significant rate. A copy of the program's evaluation, conducted by independent researchers at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, can be found in our Data Section. View the TRI Report here.

Due to the model's promising results, philanthropy and school systems have dedicated more resources to supporting this work. TRI has been expanded from one school in 2013-14, to seven schools in 2014-15, and to 17 schools in 2015-16. TRI operates in public, charter, and choice schools across Milwaukee. In order to meet the community set target of 2,000 more proficient readers (above the 2011-12 baseline) we plan on expanding TRI to at least 50 schools by the 2018-19 school year.

Reading Foundation Continuation

A closer look at evidence-based reading strategies, collectively referred to as Transformative Reading Instruction (TRI), to improve third grade reading outcomes for all children in Milwaukee.

Network Organizations

TRI represents collective impact at its best. Experts, practitioners, and stakeholders from a cross-sector of our community came together to design, deploy, study, and expand TRI since 2012. Click here to view the organizations involved in this work.

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