The 2018-19 state Forward Exam, given to students in grades 3 through 8, showed 35% of students scored proficient or advanced on the English Language Arts portion. For black students, it was 10.1% and for Hispanic students, 16%.
Those scores come amid a nationwide, and more recently statewide, push for using the Science of Reading to educate students at an early age. That includes the use of phonics — the understanding of the relationship between letters and sounds — and connecting that knowledge to text.
As detailed in an Isthmus article this spring, the district and state have, until now, focused on so-called “balanced literacy,” an approach that mixes foundational skills education and phonics with group and individual work on reading and word study. Kvistad said they’ve heard the push for more phonics education from teachers throughout the review process.
“We want explicit, structured phonics,” Kvistad said. “Our teachers are saying they want that.”
Morateck said new materials also provide clearer direction for teachers by grouping instructional components of literacy, such as grammar, into “text sets.”
“We actually know a little bit more about the science of reading and how to teach reading,” Kvistad said. “We know more now that reading actually has to be taught. Children don’t just come knowing that.”
This year, the district is doing a “field test” with materials from curriculum provider EL Education in five kindergarten classes at Allis and Gompers elementary schools.
Morateck said the point of the pilot is to learn about implementing new classroom lessons and what training will be necessary.
Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.
In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.