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GOP-authored bill would revamp early education reading readiness assessments
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LEGISLATURE | EDUCATION

GOP-authored bill would revamp early education reading readiness assessments

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A GOP-authored bill in the state Legislature would replace the state’s annual reading readiness assessment program for students in grades K-2 with a new three-tiered literacy program.

Republicans on the Assembly Committee on Education said the bill aims to address slipping reading proficiency scores among Wisconsin students, while some education groups, including the state’s Department of Public Instruction, have opposed the legislation as an unfunded mandate on local schools that already face tight budget decisions.

“The bottom line is that research shows that the earlier we catch reading difficulties and begin simple interventions, the more successful those interventions will be,” bill co-author Sen. Kathy Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls, said during a committee meeting Tuesday. “We don’t present this bill as the magic bullet, but it is the ability to catch the small fires early.”

Currently, public and independent charter schools must conduct annual reading readiness assessments for pupils enrolled in 4K through second grade. The respective board must provide appropriate interventions or remedial reading services for students who are at risk of reading difficulty, though the law does not define at-risk.

Under the bill, boards would need to assess early literacy skills for students in those grades three times a year and create a personal reading plan for each pupil identified as at-risk — or those that score below the 25th percentile in assessments.

In written testimony provided to the committee, the state DPI cautioned against the measure, which does not include additional state funding for the increased assessments or required intervention for students who fall below the 25th percentile in assessments.

“No funding is provided for this intervention; arguably, schools/districts would have to use existing local funds to pay for certified reading teachers to teach reading intervention,” according to testimony. “The majority of federal funds (including reading teachers paid with funds from Title I) cannot be used to comply with this state statute.”

DPI also raised concern over the bill’s definition of intensive intervention, which addresses alphabetic principle — which is the relationship between letters and spoken language — but not other components of reading like comprehension or vocabulary.

A fiscal estimate of the bill prepared by the state Department of Administration does not provide an estimate on the financial impact of the legislation on local school districts and charter schools, but notes that it would likely result in increased costs associated with the staffing and resources needed for additional required assessments.

For and against

Organizations including the Institute for Reforming Government, Literacy Task Force of Northern Wisconsin, Wisconsin Reading Coalition and the Wisconsin branch of the International Dyslexia Association have registered in support of the bill. Groups opposed to the legislation include the Association of Wisconsin School Administrators, League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Association of School Boards and Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators.

“We believe in the intent, we recognize what has to happen and we want to move reading achievement forward,” said Ben Niehaus, with the Wisconsin Association of School Boards. “I would say the primary concerns of this are the funding, the prescriptive nature and local control is paramount for our organization.”

However, committee chair Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, challenged critics of the bill, including DPI, to come forward with a proposal to address reading readiness.

“I’ve got to tell you, I’m getting tired of this. The current way we teach reading in the state of Wisconsin, almost across the entire board, that castle has been ruling the kingdom for 30-some years and the castle walls have been breached in other states and it’s about to happen here,” he said. “It’s time to join up or get out of the way or at least go neutral.”

The numbers

Statewide testing released in September 2019 by DPI found that for students in grades 3-8 and grade 11, 39.3% of students tested proficient or better in English/language arts in 2018-19, down from 40.6% in 2017-18.

The round of testing found that the state’s persistent racial academic achievement gap had narrowed due to a drop in performance among white students. For example, white students in fifth grade dropped 4.6 percentage points in English/language arts proficiency compared to a 1.6 percentage-point decrease for Black students in fifth grade.

In the eighth grade, the percentage of Black students scoring proficient or advanced in English/language arts rose 2 percentage points to 12.1%, while the percentage of white students in that group dropped 1.1 percentage points. But the proficiency difference is still separated by a 30-point gap.

“For too long, Wisconsin’s K-12 system has churned out too many students who are not proficient in reading, causing a workforce crisis,” CJ Szafir, president of the conservative Institute for Reforming Government, said in an email. “The ‘Roadmap to Reading Success’ bill transforms our childhood literacy policies by equipping parents and teachers with the information they need in order to ensure all students have the opportunity to succeed.”

School Spotlight: Adventures in learning, inside and outside the classroom

Each Monday, the Wisconsin State Journal features a story about learning in Wisconsin. You can find all the School Spotlight stories from 2021 here. 

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The trees and the vista just beyond the school forest could be preserved under current plans for the North Side subdivision

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A field trip to a Wisconsin Dells water park was cut short when a thunderstorm rolled in, giving campers another water-themed lesson.

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The camp at Madison Community Montessori School in Middleton was designed to pique students' interests and explore language, math and science. 

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Glitter became dragon scales, and dish soap was worm guts.

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Harbor launched 12 weeks of summer camps that take advantage of the athletic club and also bring in educational elements, with themes such as summer Olympics, recycling and carnival.

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Madison School & Community Recreation, Madison Parks and the Madison Reading Project are bringing free, accessible recreation to the city's neighborhoods through the Mobile Madison program.

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Greathead showed up at an end-of-the-year party wearing a skirt decorated with rainbows her students drew with fabric markers.

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Signs on the Eagle School trail identify species through the characteristics of leaves, fruit and bark, explain why leaves change color in the fall, and discuss oak savanna restoration.

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The school began in a church basement in 2005.

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Children learn a new language while engaging in hands-on activities such as arts and crafts, storytelling, music and movement and dance. 

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Marilyn Ruffin founded the Sun Prairie BEAM Awards to shine a light on the positive examples of Black excellence and achievement in the community.

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A $13,000 grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation will help expose middle-schoolers to careers in manufacturing and technology.

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The school celebrates the passage of seasons through art, music and story to strengthen a connection to the rhythms of nature.

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“It’s really nice we get to go outside and do nice things for people,” said freshman James Bradley.

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Keena Schroeder's cheesecakes have raise $1,000 for the Sun Prairie School District’s Hunger Hero Campaign to pay down outstanding balances for students' lunches.

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“I have very few (curriculum areas) that teach reading, writing and critical thought better than hip-hop,” said social studies teacher Andy Hartman. “It lends itself to kids who typically don’t engage in schools.”

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Once Monona Terrace was secured for rehearsal space, the “Percussion Extravaganza” concert was recorded, and it will be available online at 4 p.m. Saturday.

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Drotzer's Polish bantam chicken earned her a grand champion award at the Jefferson County Fair, where her drake was a reserve champion.

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The program combines academic and technical classroom instruction with mentored on-the-job learning.

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Social workers in the Middleton-Cross Plains School District sprang into action to get essentials like toilet paper to families in need.

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Edgewood Campus School teacher Kim VanBrocklin has been using brain-based learning initiatives in her teaching for nearly two decades. 

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“Daphne is a force to be reckoned with,” said Leah Williams, science teacher and adviser for the school's Green Team at Middleton High School.

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Students were asked to grab a makeshift drum and play along or dance or do both as they watched an online video performance at home.

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The temperature was hovering around 2 degrees and frost was in her hair, yet Sena Pollock didn’t seem fazed about the prospect of spending six…

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Olbrich's Rainforest Rhythms celebrates cultures from tropical and sub-tropical rainforest regions through dance and music.

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The program serves disconnected, low-income young people ages 16 to 24 in Dane County and guides them toward self-sufficiency through mentoring, education and employment training.

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A $1,115 grant from Friends of MSCR grant was used to buy winter clothing, such as snow pants and gloves, and play equipment, including sleds and tools to build igloos.

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Sophia De Oliveira and brother Nickolas De Oliveira created Project Empower's Lung Model Kit to help children understand the COVID-19 pandemic.

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When the Middleton High School hockey season was canceled because of COVID-19, team members built two rinks at Penni Klein Park.  

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In Kathy Nieber-Lathrop's “Gingko Finds Her Forever Home,” a girl who is adopted sets off on an adventure to find her Chinese tree an earthen home.

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