IDA Leaders Respond to Education Week Article on Wisconsin Legislation

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As first appeared in Education Week, April 18, 2012. Reprinted with permission from Editorial Projects in Education.

A handful of states are gradually adopting licensing tests that measure aspiring elementary teachers’ ability to master aspects of what’s arguably their most important task: teaching students to read. In the most recent example of what appears to be a slow but steady push, Wisconsin became the latest state to adopt a rigorous, stand-alone test of elementary teachers’ knowledge of the science of reading. Click Here to read the full article.

Coverage of policy efforts to improve the teaching profession is supported by a grant from the Joyce Foundation, at

IDA Leaders respond to the article:

Building on similar successes in Massachusetts and Connecticut, Wisconsin Reading Coalition and IDA recently persuaded a bi-partisan group of legislators in Wisconsin to require teachers of reading to pass a rigorous licensing exam that tests their knowledge of scientifically-based reading instruction practices. Ed Week’s article about this hard-won achievement (April 17, 2012), unfortunately, could not avoid a retro-reference to the “reading wars” and a description of the Massachusetts exam as “perilously close” to “wars over explicit skills instruction in word-level alphabetics versus context-based constructivist approaches to teaching reading.”  University spokesmen were quoted, predictably, as favoring “balanced literacy” and “a broad approach” along with a general reluctance to critically evaluate and change what they are teaching.  To the informed reader, the problem in Wisconsin was patently obvious: The test is going to be the only effective vehicle by which the courses now offered to teachers in training can be exposed, challenged, and improved. It would have been nice to provide a less ambiguous statement from EdWeek regarding the importance of the test, but perhaps that will occur when the first scores on the new competency test are revealed. Meanwhile, IDA’s campaign to recognize those schools that ARE teaching according to our Knowledge and Practice Standards moves right along.

Louisa Moats, Ed.D., IDA Board Member, Co-chair of the Professional Development Committee, President, Moats Associates Consulting, Inc.

Wisconsin’s recent legislation requiring newly prepared general and special education teachers to pass a new reading content examination for licensure is a foundational and significant step in supporting our teachers and improving reading student outcomes. The April 17, 2012 Ed Week article about our journey only scratches the reality of what has been and the journey yet to come.

Wisconsin is not unlike many states with arcane teacher education programs and the educational institutions that support them.   However, for years Wisconsin has been neutralizing or ignoring the measures and impact of poor student reading performance.  The widely respected Nation’s Report Card finally exposed the reality that Wisconsin does not teach reading well.  No more hiding.

Because the qualifications and expertise of instructors responsible for teaching foundational reading in our schools of higher education are so limited, schools of education do not know the extent of how the new examination will affect courses, syllabi, texts and their own need for education.  Making only “subtle changes” in the content courses for reading will doom students taking the test; students will not be prepared sufficiently to pass the exam.   As the article points out this law “is not a cure-all. It does not measure how well a teacher translates content into practice.”  As advocates, these issues will be new hurdles to cross; no, actually we have a mountain range in front of us.

Members of the Wisconsin Branch of the International Dyslexia Association and the Wisconsin Reading Coalition orchestrated efforts to expose what is and has been the reality for decades.  It will get tougher, and a completely apolitical issue will continue to be mired in politics.   Without a seat at the table, without an invitation for conversation, and without media and news coverage, advocates will trudge on for the kids, counting on science and data to show that we know how to teach kids to read, but we are just not doing it.

Cheryl Ward, M.S., CALP, President, Wisconsin Branch, The International Dyslexia Association

As Elisabeth Liptak, IDA’s Professional Services Director, stated in her article in the February 2012 eXaminer,
“The short-term goal of IDA’s review of university programs is to identify teacher training programs that meet the IDAStandards, and to provide a framework for course content and high-quality teacher preparation.  A longer-term goal is to promote a common standard for teacher preparation and to ultimately change the way all teachers are trained and certified.”  It is very exciting news that nine university programs have completed their reviews and have all met the IDA Knowledge and Practice Standards

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