June 15, 2023

Serious Concerns Remain on Test & Punish Reading Bill

Serious Concerns Remain on Test & Punish Reading Bill Featured Image

WEAC Advocacy Stops Provision to Hold Third Graders Back Based on Standardized Tests

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Test & Punish Bill Explainer

Governor Tony Evers says he won’t sign a bill intended to change how kids in Wisconsin learn to read unless its Republican authors overhaul the legislation.

Evers said the bill must be changed to provide more autonomy for educators and local school districts, apply the same requirements to private voucher schools and allow school officials to decide whether they will adopt policies to force students to repeat third grade reading lessons if they receive low test scores.

Evers’ move came after WEAC members voiced opposition to politicians forcing third graders to repeat a grade, even though all research says it harms students. WEAC is also opposed to parts of the bill requiring teachers to take on lengthy coursework for additional certifications with no additional pay, along with a provision making it easier to sue dedicated teachers in circuit court. “Wisconsin is struggling to keep and attract educators into the profession, but these measures coupled with a lack of acknowledgement for teachers’ expertise, will certainly push more caring educators out of the profession,” WEAC President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen said.

The Republicans’ proposal would triple the amount of annual reading screenings for students in kindergarten through third grade. Evers vetoed a similar bill last year because it did not appropriate any money to implement the additional tests.

“WEAC wants nothing more than for every child to be an inspired, excited] and proficient reader,” Wirtz-Olsen said. “This bill, however, is not the way to achieve our shared goal. Instead, it will further politicize schools, demoralize educators and – most tragically – harm students. “

Our voice was heard as an amendment to the bill was accepted before the Assembly Committee on State Affairs passed the bill. Now, rather than the hold back requirement, public school districts would require young learners to undergo intensive summer programs and repeat the third-grade reading curriculum while in the fourth grade.

Remaining components of the legislation would push Wisconsin schools further in the direction of phonics and the “science of reading” approach to how reading is taught. The move is tied to the $50 million announced as part of a deal for K-12 schools in the state budget.

The bill is expected to come before the full Assembly on Wednesday, June 21.

Most Wisconsin schools currently use a “balanced literacy” strategy that uses some elements from phonics but overall teaches kids to read using context clues in individual letters and pictures. Some states and school districts have seen increases in reading proficiency using the science of reading approach but results overall have been modest.

While educators were able to push back forced retention based on standardized test scores, WEAC still has additional concerns about the bill and is urging members to contact their Assembly Represenatives now. Our concerns include:

State Funding

To receive state funding for the costs of required early literacy tests under the bills, beginning in 2025 schools would only be eligible for funding if they submit an annual report that states they only used a state-approved test.

State Report Cards & Other Reporting

The bill requires state report cards for every district to include the number and percentage of pupils who scored in the lowest proficiency category on the third-grade standardized test. There are also additional requirements on what school districts are required to report to the DPI annually.

New Office of Literacy Coaches

The office would be housed under the DPI. In selecting a director, the state superintendent would be required to consult with a newly created Council on Early Literacy Curricula and subject to the advice and consent of the Wisconsin Senate. The Office of Literacy in consultation with cooperative educational service agencies (CESAs), would be required to hire the equivalent of 64 full-time literacy coaches.

New Council on Early Literacy Curricula

The bill would require the creation of a Council on Early Literacy Curricula, which would recommend curricula and instructional materials for grades Kindergarten through three. The state superintendent, the assembly speaker and the senate majority leader would each be allowed to appoint three council members. The council would meet each year to make recommendations for the coming school year. The legislative Joint Finance Committee would have final say in whether the recommendations are adopted and schools adopting early literacy curriculum could only use that recommended by the DPI. The DPI would be required to award grants toward half of the early literacy curriculum.

Prohibition of Three-Cueing, Support of Phonics

The bill includes several measures to prohibit three-cueing from being used in public or voucher schools. For the purposes of the bill, three-cueing refers to any model, including MSV, that teaches reading based on meaning, structure and syntax, and visual cues or memory. It would prohibit the state superintendent from approving teacher prep programs that incorporate three-cueing. It requires teachers to complete instruction on phonics before they can be licensed to teach reading or language arts in PreK-6.

Professional Development

The bill would require K-3 teachers and principals, with no additional pay or time considerations, to undergo mandatory professional development (Voyager Sopris Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling, LETRS) by July 1, 2025.

Parent Notification

The bill would require parents to be notified of reading test results within 15 days of scoring. The bill would also allow parents to file a complaint with the DPI if they think the school is not in compliance with the bill. Parents who believe a school is continuing to fail to comply after filing a complaint would be allowed to bring action in circuit court.

Reading Tests for 4K through 3rd Graders

Schools would be required to create personal reading plans for each pupil who scores below the 25th percentile in 5K-3 and to test 4K students twice a year. The proposal lays out specifications on universal screening and assessments used.