Art Rainwater’s Email regarding Reading First

Madison Schools Superintendent Art Rainwater sent me an email today regarding this paper. Here’s his email:

Dear Jim
I received a copy of your email to Diane Mayerfeld regarding reading in the Madison Schools. I would like to set straight the misinformation that is contained in the document that you included with your email. First the Milwaukee Public Schools have not performed better on the fourth grade WKCE test that Madison. The report cites “School Facts 03” as the source. The numbers in that publication show that in Madison 80% of our fourth graders scored proficient and advanced on the test and that only 63% of Milwaukee”s fourth graders scored proficient and advanced. I am not sure how such an error could have occurred in the document that you produced since the numbers in the report are very clear. An examination of the DPI WINNS website shows the same numbers.
I find this type of inaccuracy extremely disturbing since inaccurate numbers were also used in the Wisconsin State Journal editorial regarding the Reading First grant. The editorial states that Lincoln’s third grade reading scores have declined since 2001, when in fact, they have steadily increased. The editorial writer had the chart showing the increase in performance before her when she wrote the editorial.
There are always legitimate disagreements that can be made over many of the decisions that the District makes. However, using inaccurate and clearly wrong data to make those arguments should never be acceptable.
The Performance Series Report also indicates that there was a choice between Reading Recovery and the programs approved under the Reading First grant for funding. That assertion is not accurate. Reading Recovery was not part of the issue at all. The choice was between our Balanced Literacy Core Program (CLIP) and the Reading first programs. Reading Recovery is a first grade intervention not a core program. The following explanation written by the team that actually worked on the Reading First grant and have extraordinary expertise in reading says it much better than I can.

Letter to the Editor
December 2, 2004
While we strongly believe that the editorial staff of the Wisconsin State Journal has every right to take a position critical of the Madison school district, it is vitally important for the editorial staff to get the facts right so that readers can accurately make their own judgments. Unfortunately, the WSJ’s editorial, “Reading between the lines of rigidity” fails the test.
The editorial contends that, “third grade reading test scores have actually declined since 2001 at Lincoln (Elementary).” Not true. In fact, Midvale/Lincoln students have improved in that period. In 2001, 52.7% of Midvale/Lincoln third graders were “proficient” and “advanced” while in 2004 66.9% of the students were proficient or advanced, according to the Department of Public Instruction’s Web site. This is a 14.2% increase, not the decline stated in the editorial.
In fact, since the inception of the district current classroom reading program during the 1997-98 school year, all of the schools that participated in the Reading First grant have improved: Glendale – from 34.5% to 67.3%; Hawthorne – from 31.1% to 71.2%; Midvale/Lincoln – from 44.8% to 66.9%; and Orchard Ridge – from 69.3% to 82.6%.
The Reading First grant would have required a complete change in the district’s classroom reading program. It called for us to dismantle this program which has enabled us to make substantial gains towards eliminating the minority student achievement gap on the third grade reading test (see WSJ article, Saturday, Nov. 20) and then to purchase and implement a program that has no documented record of success.
The editorial confuses the reader by comparing “apples to airplanes” when it implies that the choice for the district was between one of Reading First approved programs and the Reading Recovery program. Reading Recovery has nothing to do with Reading First, aside from the fact that both have “reading” in the titles. Reading Recovery is an individual intervention program used only with first grade students who need additional instruction outside of the classroom reading program. In contrast, Reading First approved programs are used as the fundamental classroom reading program for all students.
The editorial says the district should have accepted a grant that would have thrown out our successful classroom reading program at five of our schools, “while simultaneously getting the federal evaluators to take a good, hard look (at the district’s current program).” While we didn’t throw out our program, we did spend the first year of the grant working with the guidelines and getting the federal evaluators to take a “good, hard look” at our program. We made modifications and improvements and there was give and take, but the bottom line for the U.S. Dept. of Education was to do things their way, or no way. We chose to continue our successful classroom reading program.
We are deeply committed to ensuring that every child in Madison schools can read at or above grade level. It is one of the Board of Education’s goals for the district. We believe it can be done and our data shows it is being done. We work towards that end every day. Disagreement on substance is expected, but please don’t muddle the truth to the extent that your readers aren’t getting an accurate picture.
Jane Belmore, Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Instruction
Beth Lehman, Principal, Lincoln School
Andreal Davis, teacher, Lincoln School
Carol Heibel, Principal, Glendale School
Penny Johnson, teacher, Glendale School
Michael Hertting, Principal, Orchard Ridge School
Barb Dorn, teacher, Orchard Ridge School
John Burkholder, Principal, Midvale School
Mary Kay Johnson, teacher, Midvale School
Cathy McMillan, Principal, Hawthorne School
Jaci McDaniels, teacher, Hawthorne School
Diane Esser, District Literacy Support Teacher