July 19, 2023

WEAC, State Reading Association Raise Concerns as Bill to Increase K-3 Testing, Outlaw Teaching Methods is Signed into Law

WEAC, State Reading Association Raise Concerns as Bill to Increase K-3 Testing, Outlaw Teaching Methods is Signed into Law Featured Image

Governor Tony Evers has signed into law a bill that triples the amount of testing for young learners and outlaws certain teaching methods, prompting WEAC and the Wisconsin State Reading Association to issue a joint statement to raise our shared concerns. While we still have serious concerns, our advocacy has made a difference.

  1. 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.
  2. We succeeded in requiring voucher schools to follow the same prohibitions against three-cuing as public schools.

However, educators still believe our students deserve a better approach to literacy and we should be included in any legislation that impacts learning.

“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 Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC President. “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.”

Components of the Legislation

The Wisconsin State Reading Association, which WEAC partnered with as the bill circulated in the Legislature, also expressed its disappointment of Assembly Bill 321. “Quick fixes don’t exist,” said Ryanne Deschane, WSRA President. “The new law will mandate policies already being abandoned by other institutions and coming under greater scrutiny. Further, the changes will restrict local control; restrict what and how elementary teachers and university faculty can teach; and, specifies one method and vendor in regard to professional development training.”

These are among the changes contained in the sweeping bill:

  • 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. 

WEAC continues to be vocal in our support for 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.”