Read to Lead Task Force Works to Improve Teachers, Education in Wisconsin

By Christian D’Andrea
MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst

The second meeting of Governor Scott Walker’s Read to Lead Task Force met Tuesday afternoon to discuss the state of education in Wisconsin’s public schools. A panel of experts exchanged ideas on how to produce a stronger class of educator and foster a better sense of student achievement across the Badger State.

Tuesday’s task force was led by University of Wisconsin professors Dr. Dawnese Hassett and Dr. Tania Mertzman Habeck, two individuals with experience in training Wisconsin’s teachers. The pair, flanked by over a dozen local experts with titles that ranged from kindergarten teachers to professor emeritus, discussed what methods are best to create a better breed of teacher that can properly analyze the needs and abilities of their students.

The conversation included input from Walker, State Superintendent Tony Evers, and Assembly Education Committee Chairman Steve Kestell and touched on topics from standardized testing in the classroom to teacher preparation within the UW System.

The group almost unanimously agreed that stronger reading coursework is needed for prospective teachers in college, and that the basic science behind comprehension and literacy is an element that needs a stronger presence amongst teachers. A greater background in reading and a statewide “road map” to teaching literacy in the younger grades are elements that would help teachers feel more like experts and strengthen their intervention on student learning in the classroom, panelists said.

Understanding which students need intervention at an early age – and which students need advanced coursework – was the next topic in line. Panelists discussed the screening measures they had used in the state, and many eschewed the state-mandated Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE) for more descriptive tests. The WKCE, one reading specialist argued, told teachers little about their students, and by the time the results were out, they were already winding down the school year and saying goodbye.

DPI is in the midst of a drawn out process to replace the WKCE, something policy makers have been discussing since at least 2005.

Other testing measures, such as DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills), PALS (Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening), and Running Records were discussed at length as strong supplemental tools for better understanding a student’s abilities. While no consensus was reached on what measures were the best for all teachers, everyone on the task force was able to agree that teachers need better and more consistent tools to assess their students.

The recurring theme of the meeting was finding a way to create a stronger class of teacher in Wisconsin to raise up all students. More vigorous literacy programs for teachers at the university level is one step, and a better, more responsive track for student analysis is another that will go far in identifying struggling children and get them the help they need to succeed. The Read to Lead Task Force preached for consistency and responsiveness to drive reading plans across the state’s classrooms. With monthly meetings pushing an agenda of education reform closer to reality, how much of this they can impart in public schools will be an ongoing storyline in the Badger State.