The fourth meeting of the Governor’s Read to Lead task force took place in Milwaukee on Friday, July 29. The meeting was filmed by Wisconsin Eye, but we have not seen it offered yet through their website. We will send out a notice when that occurs. As always, we encourage you to watch and draw your own conclusions.
Following is a synopsis of the meeting, which centered on reading improvement success in Florida and previously-discussed task force topics (teacher preparation, licensing, professional development, screening/intervention, early childhood). In addition, Superintendent Evers gave an update on activity within DPI. The discussion of the impact of societal factors on reading achievement was held over to the next meeting, as was further revisiting of early childhood issues.
In addition to this summary, you can access Chan Stroman’s Eduphilia tweets at http://twitter.com/#!/eduphilia
Opening: Governor Walker welcomed everyone and stressed the importance of this conversation on reading. Using WKCE data, which has been criticized nationally and locally for years as being derived from low standards, the Governor stated that 80% of Wisconsin students are proficient or advanced in reading, and he is seeking to serve the other 20%. The NAEP data, which figured prominently in the presentation of the guest speakers, tell a very different story. Superintendent Evers thanked the task force members and indicated that this is all about “connecting the dots” and putting all of the “puzzle pieces” together. The work of this task force will impact the work going on in other education-focused committees.
The Florida Story: Guest speakers were Patricia Levesque, the Executive Director of the Foundation for Excellence in Education and the Foundation for Florida’s Future, and Mary Laura Bragg, the director of Florida’s statewide reading initiative, Just Read, Florida! from 2001 to 2006.
In a series of slides, Levesque compared Wisconsin, Florida, and national performance on the NAEP reading test over the past decade. Despite challenges in terms of English language learners, a huge percentage of students on free/reduced lunch, and a minority-majority demographic, Florida has moved from the scraping the bottom on the NAEP to the top group of states. Over the same time period, Wisconsin has plummeted in national ranking, and our students now score below the national average in all subgroups for which NAEP data is disaggregated. 10 points on the NAEP scale is roughly equivalent to one grade level in performance, and Florida has moved from two grade levels below Wisconsin to 1/2 grade level above. For a full discussion of Wisconsin’s NAEP performance, see our website, http://www.wisconsinreadingcoalition.org.
Levesque and Bragg also described the components of the reading initiative in Florida, which included grading all schools from A to F, an objective test-based promotion policy from third to fourth grade, required state-approved reading plans in each district, trained reading coaches in schools, research assistance from the Florida Center for Reading Research, required individual student intervention plans for struggling students, universal K-2 screening for reading problems, improved licensure testing for teachers and principals, the creation of a reading endorsement for teaching licenses, and on-line professional development available to all teachers. As noted above, achievement has gone up dramatically, the gap between demographic groups has narrowed, early intervention is much more common, and third grade retention percentages continue to fall. The middle school performance is now rising as those children who received early intervention in elementary school reach that level. Those students have not yet reached high school, and there is still work to be done there. To accomplish all this, Florida leveraged federal funds for Title 1 and 2 and IDEA, requiring that they be spent for state-approved reading purposes. The Governor also worked actively with business to create private/public partnerships supporting reading. Just Read, Florida! was able to engineer a statewide conference for principals that was funded from vendor fees. While Florida is a strong local control state, reading is controlled from the state level, eliminating the need for local curriculum directors to research and design reading plans without the resources or manpower to do so. Florida also cut off funding to university professors who refused to go along with science-based reading instruction and assessment.
Florida is now sharing its story with other states, and offering assistance in reading plan development, as well as their screening program (FAIR assessment system) and their online professional development, which cost millions to develop. Levesque invited Wisconsin to join Indiana and other states at a conference in Florida this fall.
Questions for, or challenges to, the presenters came from three task force members.
- Rachel Lander asked about the reading coaches, and Bragg responded that they were extensively trained by the state office, beginning with Reading First money. They are in the classroom modeling for teachers and also work with principals on understanding data and becoming building reading leaders. The coaches now have an association that has acquired a presence in the state.
- Linda Pils stated her belief that Wisconsin outperforms Florida at the middle school level, and that we have higher graduation rates than Florida. She cited opinions that third grade retention has some immediate effect, but the results are the same or better for non-retained students later, and that most retained students will not graduate from high school. She also pointed out Florida’s class size reduction requirement, and suggested that the NAEP gains came from that. Levesque explained that the retention studies to which Pils was referring were from other states, where retention decisions were made subjectively by teachers, and there was no requirement for science-based individual intervention plans. The gains for retained students in Florida are greater than for matched students who are not retained, and the gains persist over time. Further, retention did not adversely affect graduation rates. In fact, graduation rates have increased, and dropout rates have declined. The University of Arkansas is planning to do a study of Florida retention. The class size reduction policy did not take effect in Florida until last year, and a Harvard study concluded that it had no effect on student reading achievement. Task force member Steve Dykstra pointed out that you cannot compare the NAEP scores from two states without considering the difference in student demographics. Wisconsin’s middle school scores benefit from the fact that we have a relative abundance of white students who are not on free/reduced lunch. Our overall average student score in middle school may be higher than Florida, but when we compare similar cohorts from both states, Florida is far ahead.
- Tony Pedriana asked what kinds of incentives have been put in place for higher education, principals, etc. to move to a science-based system of instruction. The guests noted that when schools are graded, reading performance receives double weight in the formula. They also withheld funding for university programs that were not science-based.
DPI Update: Superintendent Evers indicated that DPI is looking at action in fours areas: teacher licensure, the Wisconsin Model Early Learning Standards, the use of a screener to detect reading problems, and implementation of the Common Core State Standards.
- The committee looking at licensing is trying to decide whether they should recommend an existing, off-the-shelf competency exam, or revise the exam they are currently requiring (Praxis 2). He did not indicate who is on the committee or what existing tests they were looking at. In the past, several members of the task force have recommended that Wisconsin use the Foundations of Reading test given in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
- DPI is revising the WMELS to correct definitions and descriptions of phonological and phonemic awareness and phonics. The changes will align the WMELS with both the Report of the National Reading Panel and the Common Core State Standards. Per the suggestion of Eboni Howard, a guest speaker at the last meeting, they will get an outside opinion on the WMELS when they are finished. Evers did not indicate who is doing this work.
- DPI is looking at the possibility of using PALS screening or some other tool recommended by the National RTI Center to screen students in grades K-2 or K-3. Evers previously mentioned that this committee had been meeting for 6-7 months, but he did not indicate who is on it.
- Evers made reference to communication that was circulated this week (by Dr. Dan Gustafson and John Humphries) that expressed concern over the method in which DPI is implementing the Common Core. He stated that districts have been asking DPI for help in implementing the CC, and they want to provide districts with a number of resources. One of those is the model curriculum being developed by CESA 7. DPI is looking at it to see how it could help the state move forward, but no final decision has yet been made.
Task force member Pam Heyde, substituting for Marcia Henry, suggested that it would be better to look at what Florida is doing rather than start from ground zero looking at guidelines. Patricia Levesque confirmed that Florida was willing to assist other states, and invited Wisconsin to join a meeting of state reading commissioners in October.
Teacher Preparation: The discussion centered around what needs to change in teacher preparation programs, and how to fit this into a four-year degree.
Steve Dykstra said that Texas has looked at this issue extensively. Most schools need three courses to cover reading adequately, but it is also important to look at the texts that are used in the courses. He referenced a study by Joshi that showed most of the college texts to be inadequate.
Dawnene Hassett, UW-Madison literacy professor in charge of elementary teacher reading preparation, was invited to participate in this part of the discussion. She indicated we should talk in terms of content knowledge, not number of credits. In a couple of years, teachers will have to pass a Teacher Performance Assessment in order to graduate. This was described as a metacognitive exercise using student data. In 2012-13, UW-Madison will change its coursework, combining courses in some of the arts, and dropping some of the pedagogical, psychological offerings.
Tony Pedriana said he felt schools of education had fallen down on teaching content derived from empirical studies.
Hassett said schools teach all five “pillars” of reading, but they may not be doing it well enough. She said you cannot replicate classroom research, so you need research “plus.”
Pils was impressed with the assistance the FCRR gives to classroom teachers regarding interventions that work. She also said spending levels were important.
Dykstra asked Mary Laura Bragg if she had worked with professors who thought they were in alignment with the research, but really weren’t.
Bragg responded that “there’s research, and then there’s research.” They had to educate people on the difference between “research” from vendors and empirical research, which involves issues of fidelity and validation with different groups of students.
Levesque stated that Florida increased reading requirements for elementary candidates from 3 to 6 credits, and added a 3 credit requirement for secondary candidates. Colleges were required to fit this in by eliminating non-content area pedagogy courses.
Kathy Champeau repeated a concern from earlier meetings that teacher candidates need the opportunity to practice their new knowledge in a classroom setting, or they will forget it.
Hassett hoped the Teacher Performance Assessment would help this. The TPA would probably require certain things to be included in the teacher candidate’s portfolio.
Governor Walker said that the key to the effectiveness of Florida’s retention policy was the intervention provided to the students. He asked what they did to make sure intervention was successful.
Levesque replied that one key was reading coaches in the classroom. Also, district reading plans, individual intervention plans, student academies, etc. all need to be approved by the state.
There was consensus that there should be a difference in reading requirements for elementary vs. secondary teachers. There was no discussion of preparation for reading teachers, reading specialists, or special education teachers.
Licensing: The discussion centered around what teacher standards need to be tested.
Dykstra suggested that the Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading, written by Louisa Moats, et al, and published by the International Dyslexia Association in 2010, would be good teacher standards, and the basis for a teacher competency exam. There was no need for DPI to spend the next year discussing and inventing new teacher standards.
Champeau said that the International Reading Association also has standards.
Pedriana asked if those standards are based on research.
Dykstra suggested that the task force look at the two sets of standards side-by-side and compare them.
Professional Development: The facilitators looked for input on how professional development for practicing teachers should be targeted. Should the state target struggling teachers, schools, or districts for professional development?
Rep. Jason Fields felt all three needed to be targeted.
Heyde asked Levesque for more details on how Wisconsin could do professional development, when we often hear there is no money.
Levesque provided more detail on the state making reading a priority, building public/private partnerships, and being more creative with federal grant money (e.g., the 20% of each grant that is normally carved out by the state for administration). There should be a clear reading plan (Florida started with just two people running their initiative, and after a decade only has eight people), and all the spending should align with the plan to be effective. You cannot keep sending money down the hole. Additional manpower was provided by the provision that all state employees would get one paid hour per week to volunteer on approved reading projects in schools, and also by community service requirements for high school students.
Bragg suggested using the online Florida training modules, and perhaps combining them with modules from Louisiana.
Dykstra also suggested taking advantage of existing training, including LETRS, which was made widely available in Massachusetts. He also stressed the importance of professional development for principals, coaches, and specialists.
Bragg pointed out that many online training modules are free, or provided for a nominal charge that does not come close to what it would cost Wisconsin to develop its own professional development.
Lander said there were many Wisconsin teachers who don’t need the training, and it should not be punitive.
Champeau suggested that Florida spends way more money on education that Wisconsin, based on information provided by the NAEP.
Levesque clarified that Florida actually is below the national average in cost per student. The only reason they spend more than Wisconsin is that they have more students.
Rep. Steve Kestell stated that teachers around the entire state have a need for professional development, and it is dangerous to give it only to the districts that are performing the worst.
Sarah Archibald (sitting in for Sen. Luther Olsen) said it would be good to look at the value added in districts across the state when trying to identify the greatest needs for professional development. The new statewide information system should provide us with some of this value added information, but not at a classroom teacher level.
Evers commented that the state could require new teacher Professional Development Plans to include or be focused on reading.
Pils commented that districts can have low and high performing schools, so it is not enough to look at district data.
Champeau said that administrators also need this professional development. They cannot evaluate teachers if they do not have the knowledge themselves.
Dykstra mentioned a Florida guidebook for principals with a checklist to help them. He is concerned about teachers who develop PDP’s with no guidance, and spend a lot of time and money on poor training and learning. There is a need for a clearinghouse for professional development programs.
Screening/Intervention: One of the main questions here was whether the screening should be universal using the same tools across the state.
Champeau repeated a belief that there are districts who are doing well with the screening they are doing, and they should not be required to change or add something new.
Dykstra responded that we need comparable data from every school to use value added analysis, so a universal tool makes sense. He also said there was going to be a lot of opposition to this, given the statements against screening that were issued when Rep. Keith Ripp introduced legislation on this topic in the last biennium. He felt the task force has not seen any screener in enough detail to recommend a particular one at this time.
Heyde said we need a screener that screens for the right things.
Pils agreed with Dykstra and Heyde. She mentioned that DIBELS is free and doesn’t take much time.
Michele Erickson asked if a task force recommendation would turn into a mandate. She asked if Florida used a universal screener.
Levesque replied that Florida initially used DIBELS statewide, and then the FCRR developed the FAIR assessments for them. The legislature in Florida mandated the policy of universal kindergarten screening that also traces students back to their pre-K programs to see which ones are doing a better job. Wisconsin could purchase the FAIR assessments from Florida.
Archilbald suggested phasing in screening if we could not afford to do it all at once.
Evers supports local control, but said there are reasons to have a universal screener for data systems, to inform college programs, and to implement professional development.
Lander asked what screening information we could get from the WKCE.
Evers responded that the WKCE doesn’t start unitl third grade.
Dykstra said we need a rubric about screening, and who needs what type and how often.
Pedriana said student mobility is another reason for a universal screener.
There was consensus that early screening is important. Certainly by 4K or 5K, but even at age three if a system could be established. Possibilities mentioned were district-run screenings or pediatrician screenings.
Walker reminded the task force that it only makes sense to screen if you have the ability to intervene with something.
Mara Brown wasn’t sure that a universal screener would tell her anything more about her students than she already knows.
Levesque said she could provide a screening roadmap rubric for the task force.
No one on the task force had suggestions for specific interventions. The feeling was that it is more important to have a well-trained teacher. Both Florida and Oregon started evaluating and rating interventions, but stopped because they got bogged down. Wisconsin must also be careful about evaluations by What Works Clearinghouse, which has some problems.
Pedriana asked if the task force is prepared to endorse a model of instruction based on science, where failure is not an option.
The facilitator said this discussion would have to wait for later.
Early Childhood: The task force agreed that YoungStar should include more specific literacy targets.
Rep. Kestell felt that some district are opening 4K programs primarily for added revenue, and that there is wide variability in quality. There is a need to spend more time on this and decide what 4K should look like.
Evers said we should use the Common Core and work backward to determine what needs to be done in 4K.
Wrap-Up: Further discussion of early childhood will be put over to the next meeting, as will the societal issues and accountability. A meeting site has not yet been set, but Governor Walker indicted he liked moving around the state. The Governor’s aides will follow up as to locations and specific agenda. The next meeting will be Thursday, August 25. All meetings are open to the public.
Related: An Open Letter to the Wisconsin Read To Lead Task Force on Implementing Common Core Academic Standards; DPI: “Leading Us Backwards” and how does Wisconsin Compare? www.wisconsin2.org.
Much more on Wisconsin’s Read to Lead Task Force, here.