“I don’t think that actually stating they’re supporting these policies actually means that anything will change,” said Mark Seidenberg, a UW-Madison psychology professor. “I don’t take their statement as anything more than an attempt to defuse some of the controversy and some of the criticism that’s being directed their way.”
While there’s broad agreement phonics alone is not a panacea for producing skilled readers, the degree and intensity to which it is taught has long been debated.
Forty-one percent of students scored proficient or better in reading on a state assessment last year, the state ranks middle-of-the-pack on its scores for fourth graders on a national reading assessment, and Wisconsin continues to have the worst disparity in reading scores between black and white students nationwide — figures proponents of the science of reading point to when saying the state needs to change direction.
State Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, said he’s pleased with DPI’s statement but is taking it with “cautious optimism.”
“They’ve been reluctant to go along with what the science has said, but to their credit, they seem to be making the right moves right now,” said Thiesfeldt, chairman of the Assembly Education Committee.
Last month Thiesfeldt and Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, called for an audit to examine methods of reading instruction used in Wisconsin schools, whether DPI consistently measures student achievement and how a required test on reading instruction for certain teachers affects licensing.
“If they are serious about wanting to make these changes, they should not be hesitant to have an outside group come in and evaluate what it is they’ve been doing,” Thiesfeldt said.
At a Capitol press conference Wednesday, a group of science of reading proponents called on DPI to create a new cabinet-level position dedicated to reading, provide more training and coaching opportunities for teachers related to reading instruction, and place greater emphasis on reading proficiency when rating schools on state report cards, among other changes they’re seeking.
Speaking at the Capitol Wednesday, Seidenberg said DPI “has done little to address literacy issues that have existed for decades.”
“We know the best ways to teach children to read,” he said. “Wisconsin is simply not using them, and our children are suffering.”
The group said a small number of districts, including Thorp and D.C. Everest near Wausau, have seen promising results after shifting their reading curricula. It is promoting its initiative with a new website, and Facebook Page, titled The Science of Reading — What I should have learned in College.
Under the group’s proposal, the new assistant superintendent would work with a reading science task force to identify resources for educators across the state, including training and technical support, classroom coaching and guides to high-quality curriculum and instructional resources.
In addition, supporters said, all schools of education in Wisconsin would be invited to revise their reading curricula, to bring them in line with the International Dyslexia Association’s Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teaching of Reading.
Advocates for more explicit phonics instruction have found powerful allies in parents of children with dyslexia, a learning disorder that makes it difficult for them to read. They have been pushing legislation across the country, including two taken up by the Assembly Education Committee on Wednesday that would require schools to develop systems for identifying and serving dyslexic students and require each of the cooperative education organizations known as CESAs to hire dyslexia specialists.
Mr. Wroge’s opening is incorrect.
DPI has resisted substantive reading improvements, largely by giving mulligans to thousands of Wisconsin elementary reading teachers who failed to pass our only content knowledge exam: the Foundations of Reading.
My question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our disastrous reading results.