fbpx

A password will be e-mailed to you.

Illustration by Chris Whetzel. For years, Wisconsin was a national leader in third- and fourth-grade reading scores. The state’s high-water mark came in 1994, when Wisconsin placed third in the country in a ranking by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and effectively plateaued. By 2011, our growth had slipped below 35 other states and jurisdictions […]


Illustration by Chris Whetzel.

For years, Wisconsin was a national leader in third- and fourth-grade reading scores. The state’s high-water mark came in 1994, when Wisconsin placed third in the country in a ranking by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and effectively plateaued. By 2011, our growth had slipped below 35 other states and jurisdictions – dropping its score to the middle of the pack.

In the spring of that year, Republican Gov. Scott Walker introduced what he called a “comprehensive effort” to reverse the trend: Read to Lead, a special task force directed by a nonpartisan group of teachers, legislators, experts and advocates. In many ways, the group has served as a focal point for state-led attempts at education reform, and its recommendation of a new statewide, standardized assessment system for teacher performance was rolled out this fall. Walker’s first term, more than anything, was noted for its strife with teachers unions, but Read to Lead and the new assessment metrics, the Wisconsin Educator Effectiveness System (developed by the state Department of Public Instruction), have enjoyed widespread support, even from the instructors it’s most affecting. That’s according to Melanie Agnew, a professor of education at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and president of the Wisconsin Association of Colleges of Teacher Education. DPI avoided controversy partly by leaving it up to individual districts to decide whether they wanted to tie WEES assessments, which take into account student performance, to teacher promotions and salaries.

The task force’s other recommendations are myriad and include improved screening of student progress in reading, increased family involvement, and implementing more programs aimed squarely at early-childhood literacy – and these lesser-known goals haven’t taken off in the same way as WEES. “The task force has seen a lot of pushback from districts,” says member Tony Pedriana, a retired Milwaukee Public Schools principal and author of Leaving Johnny Behind: Overcoming Barriers to Literacy, a book that promotes a more regimented approach to reading education. “We just keep going on about our merry way, not changing the curriculum to match what the data is telling us. These kids are getting the short end of the stick, and it’s disheartening.”

Reading scores have changed little in the state since Read to Lead issued its recommendations. A change in how the state’s standardized WKCE exams are scored, effective with the 2012-13 school year, further complicates the picture. Between that year and 2013-14, third-grade reading scores at MPS actually dropped from 16.2 percent proficiency to 15.4 percent, and proficiency among fourth-graders rose less than 2 percent. While running for governor, in April, Walker claimed that third-grade reading scores in Wisconsin had risen under his leadership, and PolitiFact rated this assertion “mostly true,” since the statewide average had improved by less than 1 percent over four years.

RELATED  Behind Sheriff Clarke's on-and-off Homeland Security Post

This summer, the state awarded the first half of $400,000 in grant money set aside for Read to Lead, and most of the dollars went to early- and family-literacy programs in northern and central Wisconsin. Task force member Michele Erikson, the executive director of a literacy coalition called Wisconsin Literacy Inc., says the situation up north, while different than that at MPS, is “just as grave.”

A charter school, Central City Cyberschool, received the only grant given to a school in Milwaukee, $40,516 for training and “for students to build at-home libraries.” The hope here, like at all schools, is to prepare kids for a lifetime of reading to learn, as opposed to learning to read.

Comments

comments