Read to Lead Legislation Signed into Law

MacIver News Service | April 2, 2012

On Monday, Governor Scott Walker signed legislation that will make reading a stronger priority in early childhood education.

“This is a great day for education in our state,” Governor Walker said. “This legislation is a milestone in our commitment to our state’s children. We are giving them the foundation, starting with literacy, to excel in school and in life. This education reform package makes┬ásignificant strides in our efforts to remove the barriers to a world full of possibilities for all of Wisconsin’s students.”

The Read to Lead legislation will enforce tougher literacy standards across Wisconsin’s public schools into the future. This means that Kindergarteners in the state will now have a screening test when they enter school in order to better gauge their reading skills. Teachers will have stronger licensing requirements in order to provide stronger intervention for students that may show signs of trouble with reading early in life.

DPI Superintendent Evers and Governor Walker, announcing the findings of the Read to Lead Task Force at a January press conference

The creation of the Read to Lead Development Council, which will include the governor, legislators, the state superintendent, and other educational leaders, will add an additional emphasis on literacy in the state’s schools. This effect will be felt across the educational spectrum, raising standards not only for the state’s students, but also for current and prospective teachers. Teaching programs across the UW system will now also include stronger reading instruction methods in order to better prepare teachers for these new requirements.

Department of Public Instruction Superintendent Tony Evers joined Walker at a bill signing ceremony at Franklin Elementary School in Wausau.

“I am also pleased that this new law includes provisions related to reading instruction and literacy, based on a path forward that was agreed to by the members of the Governor’s Read to Lead Task Force,” said Evers. “Reading is a foundational skill upon which all future learning is based, and provisions in this legislation will help Wisconsin better prepare educators to teach reading.”

Education reform advocates applauded the development.

“This is a significant step forward for the state, and these new standards will help to ensure that students are proficient when it comes to literacy from an early age,” said Christian D’Andrea, Education Policy Analyst with the MacIver Institute. “This legislation was the fruit of a year-long process that incorporated the design and comments of educational leaders from across the state. Many of those leaders, including State Superintendent Tony Evers, expressed satisfaction in the program’s ascent into law on Monday.”

MacIver News Service is a project of the MacIver Institute.

In a statement released to the media, the Governor’s Office outlined the key elements of the legislation:

The Read to Lead Development Council–a public-private partnership to support and expand reading programs that are working throughout Wisconsin

The Read to Lead Development Council is aimed at finding what works and, along with private partners, funding broader replication throughout the state. The Superintendent and Governor will jointly decide the size of grants based on recommendations from board members. Non-state employee members will also assist in growing the fund’s reach. Programs funded might include afterschool, parent outreach, or teacher professional development efforts. The bill will allocate $400,000 in existing funds from the 2011-13 budget to help the fund get started.

Identifying Struggling Readers and Ensuring Teachers Are Prepared–a universal kindergarten reading screener and a new, more rigorous test for new elementary and reading teachers

Rather than wait until third grade to know if students are struggling with reading, the legislation requires screening of all students as soon as they enter kindergarten to find possible areas in need of intervention. The screener will be funded with $800,000 in existing funds from the 2011-13 budget.

Massachusetts ranks better in reading than every other state by a statistically significant margin. Wisconsin will model the new reading portion of its licensure test on Massachusetts’ exam to ensure teachers are equipped with the latest research on reading. The Praxis II will be revised to include the new reading questions for all new K-5 and special education teachers. For practicing educators, the test will be voluntary.

A Fair Evaluation System for Teachers and Principals

The evaluation system was developed with teachers and administrators to fairly evaluate all educators. Rather than using raw test scores, the evaluation system puts teachers on a level playing field, regardless of the students assigned to them, through the use of value-added growth. The system uses multiple measures of educator practice (50%) and student outcomes (50%). Teachers will work collaboratively with their administrators to set student learning goals and will receive constructive, regular, and specific feedback to continually improve.

Teacher Preparatory Program Evaluations

The bill also establishes a new collaborative process with the higher education community to further improve our teacher preparatory programs by reviewing the performance of recent graduates.