November 6, 2023

How is Act 20 Impacting Your Classroom?

How is Act 20 Impacting Your Classroom? Featured Image

The sweeping new reading law passed over educators’ objections and activism

Over the strenuous objections of WEAC’s leaders and members, this summer the Legislature passed, and Governor Tony Evers signed into law, a bill that triples the amount of testing for young learners and outlaws certain teaching methods. At the time, WEAC and the Wisconsin State Reading Association issued a joint statement to raise shared concerns.

Now that schools have been living with the law for two months, WEAC’s leaders are asking educators how the law is affecting their classrooms and their students. WEAC is collecting members’ stories so they can make an assessment and call for necessary changes. If you work in a public school, please take the time to provide feedback on the form at the end of this article to help inform WEAC’s ongoing advocacy on this and other reading laws.

After hundreds of WEAC members called for changes to the bill, a provision to force children to repeat the entire third grade based on standardized test scores was removed. WEAC also succeeded in requiring voucher schools to follow the same prohibitions against three-cuing as public schools. WEAC’s advocacy made a difference, but the final bill, now known as Act 20, is a deeply flawed law that, it is feared, could negatively impact students and educators.

“Wisconsin educators are profoundly disappointed with provisions in this law. It was developed through backroom deals between politicians and bureaucrats instead of talking to licensed teachers who work with students every day,” said WEAC President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen. “Wisconsin Public School educators devote our lives to teaching students to read and – just as importantly – to develop a lifelong joy for reading. To suggest otherwise is disrespectful toward our public-school educators.”

WEAC has created a four-page information summary for Act 20, and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s website has a set of frequently asked questions that could be helpful.

These are some of the changes contained in Act 20:

• Creates an Office of Literacy to be known as the Wisconsin Reading Center at DPI;
• Creates the Council on Early Literacy Curricula, which will include nine members nominated by the state superintendent, speaker of the Assembly, and the senate majority leader and will meet annually to make recommendations to DPI that are then submitted to the Joint Committee on Finance for passive review;
• Creates a literacy coaching program through which the Office of Literacy would assign 64 contracted literacy coaches to traditional public schools, independent charter schools, and private schools participating in the choice program to provide support to administrators, school-based literacy coaches, principals, and teachers;
• Creates grants to cover 50 percent of the costs of purchasing approved curriculum and instructional materials;
• Prohibits the use of instruction or materials that contain the “three-cueing” method of literacy instruction, defined as any model that teaches a student to read based on meaning, structure and syntax, and visual cues or memory, beginning in the 2024-25 school years;
• Increases the frequency of screening and diagnostic reading assessments and prescribes specific interventions, including the creation of personal literacy plans that identify specific skill deficiencies, provide goals and benchmarks of progress, and describe additional services; and
• Requires changes in how educators are prepared to teach reading, including prohibiting the state superintendent from approving a teacher preparatory program unless the program prepares a teacher to teach using science-based early literacy instruction and does not incorporate three-cueing and requiring certain educators to take the Lexia Learning Systems LLC, Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) or another program endorsed by the Center for Effective Reading Instruction and that is offered by the Leadership in Literacy Institute or a provider that meets specified criteria.

The Legislatures promotion and ultimate passage of Act 20 took place alongside the summer-long state budget debate and deliberations. As WEAC’s leaders warned about the dangerous provisions in the reading bill, they also criticized the Senate and Assembly versions of the budget for shortchanging Wisconsin’s public-school students during a time of budget surplus and critical education needs.

WEAC continues to be vocal in support of reading programs that support students and funding that meets the needs of the entire school program so all students can succeed – including 90 percent public school special education funding and inflationary increases for all districts.

“The state budget fell short of what our students need,” Wirtz-Olsen said. “Instead of legislating curriculum, elected leaders must increase public school funding – something Wisconsinites clearly support.”