The proposed bill, authored by Sen. Mary Felzkowski, R-Irma, and state Rep. Jeff Mursau, R-Crivitz, extends that exception to applicants for all licenses that require the FORT exam.
Felzkowski and Mursau did not respond to requests for comment.
Lawmakers, DPI and the Wisconsin Association of School Boards say the change is necessary to help alleviate the state’s teacher shortage. For years, the FORT test has had dismal results. Only 54 percent of first-time test takers passed for the 2020-21 school year. That’s down from 66 percent in 2014-15.
“Passing the FORT examination can be a costly and time-consuming process, with a relatively high failure rate, especially among teacher license applicants of color and applicants whose first language is not English,” according to the Wisconsin Association of School Boards. “There is also little credible evidence that passing the FORT exam, by itself, improves teacher performance or produces any positive impact on students’ literacy skills or reading achievement.”
But some reading advocates and teachers say the onus should be on colleges and universities to better prepare their education students to teach, rather than throw away the test.
Curtis Kadow is a third grade teacher at Kosciuszko Elementary School in Cudahy. Kadow did not have to take the FORT test — he became a teacher before the test was implemented 11 years ago.
Still, Kadow sees value in the test.
“I believe it’s our only check to make sure that our universities are helping our pre-service teachers understand the science of reading and those foundational skills that they need in order to be successful coming into the workforce,” Kadow said. “I think it’s kind of interesting that our Legislature passed this really big reading bill focused on the science of reading, but now we’re trying to get rid of a test that checks for that.”
The Cudahy School District, which serves a suburb on Milwaukee’s south shore, shifted to the phonics-based science of reading three years ago and test scores show it’s beginning to pay off.
Kadow understands the argument by lawmakers and DPI that low pass rates on the FORT exam are making it more difficult to hire staff, but to him, that means universities should change how they’re teaching.
“If we think about the Forward exam, lots of kids don’t pass that, and we’re not getting rid of it,” he said. “Why? Because it’s a check to make sure that schools are doing what they need to do.”
Underly and our long term disastrous reading results….
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“Well, it’s kind of too bad that we’ve got the smartest people at our universities, and yet we have to create a law to tell them how to teach.”
The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”
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