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Legislative Update

State Senate passes bill revamping early reading instruction, sends it to the governor

by | Jun 29, 2023 | Legislative Update Blog, State Issue

On a bipartisan 25-7 vote, the Wisconsin Senate today (6/28) gave final approval to a bill (Assembly Bill 321) revamping early literacy instruction in Wisconsin.  The bill, which, has been significantly amended since it was introduced, now heads to Governor Evers’ desk. 

Among other things, the bill requires public schools and independent charter schools to administer an array of universal screening and diagnostic assessments to pupils in grades 5K-3 and create personal reading plans for pupils deemed at risk. It also provides $50 million for grants to schools to cover up to 50 percent of the cost of purchasing new curriculum and instructional materials that include all of the components of “science-based early reading instruction” as defined in the bill. DPI must prorate payments if there are insufficient funds to cover all eligible grant awards.

The state Assembly passed the bill last week (on 6/21) on a bipartisan 67-27 vote, after the bill was altered significantly in response to criticism from the DPI.  The version passed today by the Senate incorporates those changes. 

Removed from the bill were:

  • references to third grade retention (i.e., retaining students in third grade if they failed to achieve proficiency on a third-grade reading test). Instead, the DPI must define what constitutes “reading at grade level” for third graders by rule and must adopt a model policy on promotion of students from third grade to fourth grade. School boards, and the governing bodies of independent charter schools and private voucher schools, must each adopt their own policies on promotion of pupils from third grade to fourth grade by September 1, 2027. These policies must incorporate certain elements of the DPI model policy but need not follow the DPI model exactly. 
  • provisions that would have required schools purchasing new reading curriculum and instructional materials to purchase from a list recommended by a Council on Early Literacy Curricula created by the bill.  Schools seeking grant funding to help cover the cost of such new curricula and instructional materials must, however, still purchase from that list to qualify for a grant.

Added to the bill were provisions:

  • describing how pupils who are not reading at grade level can demonstrate improvement in reading such that they would no longer be required to be provided with the intensive services specified in the bill.
  • requiring that DPI provide school boards and independent charter schools with the fundamental skills screening and universal screening assessments, rather than reimbursing them for the costs of those assessments as in the original version.  As under the bill, however, DPI must pay districts and schools the per-student cost for administering diagnostic assessments. 

The provisions in the bill are too extensive to detail in this post; however, some other key highlights include the following: 

Under the version now headed to the governor, public schools, independent charter schools, and private schools that participate in a voucher program will be required to provide the following interventions for pupils not reading at grade level in third grade: (1) intensive instructional services, progress monitoring, and supports to remediate the identified areas of deficiency; and (2) an intensive summer reading program each summer until the student scores at grade level in reading.  However, these obligations are defined somewhat differently depending on the type of school the pupil attends.

  • Public schools and independent charter schools must provide these services to students who have a personal reading plan in place during third grade and have not completed the plan. (A pupil completes the reading plan when the pupil scores at grade level in reading, as determined by DPI rule, and the pupil’s parents and school agree that the student has met the reading plan’s goals.) 
  • Private schools participating in a parental choice (voucher) program must provide these interventions to students who score below grade level in reading on the third-grade reading test, rather than to students with a personal reading plan in place. (While private voucher schools must administer the third-grade reading test to voucher pupils, under the bill, they are not required to administer universal screening and diagnostic assessments in grades 5K-3 or create personal reading plans for pupils.)

In addition, Assembly Bill 321, as passed:

  • establishes a Literacy Coaching Program within a new DPI Office of Literacy created by the bill. The program will assign up to 64 literacy coaches to traditional public schools, independent charter schools, and private schools participating in a voucher program.  Half of the literacy coaches will be assigned to schools with the lowest reading scores on the standardized third grade reading assessment and half will be assigned, in consultation with the CESAs, to schools that request such assistance.
  • requires specific professional development training in science-based reading instruction for all of the following: (1) educators who teach grades kindergarten through three; (2) principals of schools that offer grades kindergarten through three; (3) reading specialists; and (4) University of Wisconsin (UW) System faculty and academic staff members who teach a course that includes curriculum in reading instruction designed for educators.

(This training must be the Lexia Learning Systems Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) or another program endorsed by the Center for Effective Reading Instruction and, in most cases, must be completed by July 1, 2025.)

  • provides that the State Superintendent may not approve a teacher preparatory program unless the program provides instruction that prepares teachers to teach science-based early literacy instruction, as defined in the bill, and does not provide instruction that incorporates three-cueing, as defined in the bill.
  • adds a new teacher licensing requirement related to science-based early literacy instruction.

(Current law prohibits DPI from issuing a license to teach reading or language arts in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade unless the applicant has successfully completed instruction preparing the individual to teach reading and language arts using phonics. Assembly Bill 321 amends the requirement so that applicants must receive instruction to teach reading and language arts using science-based early literacy instruction that does not include three-cueing as a method of instruction.)

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