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Wisconsin STAR in Partnership with Department of Corrections

By Mark Kearns, STAR National Trainer and Coach

Wisconsin’s STAR journey began in the fall of 2008, and since that time our road has been built on partnerships. We began by strengthening the relationships (through STAR training) among the various ABE programs at the 16 colleges that make up the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS). We next established a partnership with the various literacy agencies throughout the state, training 25+ literacy staff and volunteers. Next, we partnered with our Minnesota STAR friends (Marn Frank and colleagues) to establish a process whereby Wisconsin STAR participants are able to take the STAR training and earn graduate credit from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota. And most recently, we have established a new partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC), having just completed STAR training for 40 DOC teachers. To date, more than 200 participants from the various agencies have gone through the STAR training and are at various stages of implementation.

In training staff members of the DOC, my training partner, Posy Thurow, and I found very enthusiastic and willing partners! They have embraced the tenets of evidenced-based reading instruction (EBRI) and are now working diligently in remodeling their “grocery stores” to better serve their students—inmates at minimum, medium, and maximum security facilities throughout the state.

Like all of us who have undertaken the challenge to change the way we do business, our DOC STARs are experiencing many of the same issues and challenges (e.g. resistance to change from staff and students, transient clientele, budgets, uncertain support and advocacy from supervisors, lack of materials/resources, etc.) In addition, DOC staff deal with security issues that none of us in a typical ABE program can imagine. For example, during the recent STAR training, some of our participants were unable to do follow-up activities (e.g. assessments, teach new lesson plans, etc.) because their facility was in “lock down” for over a month! Obviously, you can imagine how tough it would be to establish new procedures and develop a “routine” for instruction if you had to deal with these types of interruptions, which are not uncommon for the DOC.

Despite these types of unique challenges, our DOC participants are moving forward with a clear vision and a strong sense of determination. The following quotations from various participants can describe much better than I can how they have embraced EBRI, how they recognize the challenges they face, and how they plan to move forward:

  • “My biggest “aha” [moment] was the assessment process. Having a tool that can target the specific needs of individual learners, and then grouping them together for instruction/lessons, is a huge asset to me as a reading teacher.”

  • “STAR has shown me where I have been, where I am, and where I can go – with some work. The challenge is that I have been set in my ways for the past several years and have a hard time with change. The phrase from the training, “Adapting to a STAR-based system is a marathon, not a sprint,” is an understatement, and I hope that I can persevere long enough to hit that marathon mark – when the energy for a sprint isn’t always there.”

  • “The shopping cart/grocery store analogy helped me visualize the need of changing our programming. There was a huge need to move away from the open lab concept and focus on the reader.”

  • “My “aha” moment was the need for a complete renovation of the grocery store. Actually, it blew up and I had to rebuild the foundation and the store over again. We are two weeks into the new grocery store and my students love the new focus. They get upset if their class is disrupted or other events occur. They look forward to learning new strategies as a group. I am impressed with their new interest in reading and dedication to learning.”

  • “The greatest reward or success I received from this training is confidence. I knew most of what was taught in STAR. None of those techniques are new or were invented just for STAR, but after so many years, I needed the refresher. I needed to see it all put together and the basics emphasized with adults to jumpstart myself. This training came at the right time! I feel that I have gained the confidence to be a better teacher, to be able to call myself a reading teacher, and to be effective at it. Being with a group of peers and seeing their dedication to these students has also inspired me. It was an awesome experience, and I am thankful for it. I certainly hope the DOC continues its support for this program and continues to send more teachers to this training. Reading is the foundation that our students need to build upon, and with STAR-trained teachers, they will have a solid foundation.”

In addition to revamping their own programs, many DOC participants are working together to change system-wide procedures. They are initiating proposals to develop a state-wide mechanism to enter and share diagnostic assessment results. Because many inmates are moved to other facilities, it is critical to have a system in place to share results in order to provide continuity in instruction. Others are looking at developing a system in which to share materials and resources among the various facilities.

The DOC participants, like our other partners, have no illusions that they can implement EBRI overnight. However, they have demonstrated willingness to change, passion, and the determination to do what needs to be done to serve their students. We look forward to a long-lasting and fruitful partnership.


Literacy in the News

A new competition, the $7M Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPRIZE, presented by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, is challenging teams of developers, educators, engineers, and innovators to create mobile literacy learning applications to serve the more than 36 million U.S. adults who lack basic English literacy. Each finalist team will field test its mobile software solution with 1,000 field participants from two demographics—native English language speakers ages 18 to 64, and non-native English language speakers ages 18 to 64. Learn more at


WIOA: A Key Milestone

On July 1, 2015 many of the provisions of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) went into effect. A recent statement about this significant milestone by OCTAE’s Acting Assistant Secretary Johan Uvin and partners at the Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Health and Human Services discusses “where we’ve been and where we’re going.” To view additional WIOA resources from the Department of Education, please visit and bookmark


STAR Project Director Contact Information

STAR’s project director, Laura Lanier, recently transitioned from her position at Kratos Learning to a new professional opportunity at Manhattan Strategy Group. Ms. Lanier remains the project director for STAR; however, her new email address is Please feel free to reach out to Ms. Lanier with any questions or feedback about STAR.


Upcoming Literacy Events

Adult Education State Directors Meeting
Hosted by OCTAE
Marketplace of Ideas
The Westin Alexandria
Alexandria, VA
Tuesday, August 25, 2015
2:45 – 4:00 p.m. ET

International Dyslexia Association 2015 Conference
October 28-31, 2015
Grapevine, Texas


We Want to Hear From You

If you have feedback on this newsletter or want to be a featured author in an upcoming issue, please send an email to We welcome success stories, questions for our subject matter experts, and more.


The STudent Achievement in Reading (STAR) newsletter is produced by Kratos Learning with funding from the U.S. Department of Education (ED), Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE), under Contract No. ED-VAE-14-C-0024. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily represent the positions or policies of the U.S. Department of Education, and no official endorsement by the U.S. Department of Education should be inferred. This document is in the public domain and may be reproduced without permission.

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