Legislative Council study committees wrap up work

In a series of posts, we’ll take a closer look at several study committees that recently completed their work on topics related to K-12 education and public schools.

We’ll start with the Legislative Council Study Committee on the Identification and Management of Dyslexia, which met for the last time in mid-December and voted to recommend two draft bills for the Joint Legislative Council to introduce in the 2019-20 session.

One of the proposals recommends the creation of a position in the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and the hiring of a dyslexia specialist who meets specified criteria. (This position would be in addition to the literacy consultants and disability consultants the DPI already employs.)

Study committee members debated, but did not reach a consensus on whether pedagogical, i.e., classroom teaching, experience was a necessary qualification for the dyslexia specialist position. They approved the draft without a classroom experience requirement on an 8-2 vote.

The other proposal recommends that DPI develop a guidebook for parents, guardians, teachers and administrators on dyslexia and related conditions and specifies the composition of an advisory committee that will guide development of the guidebook.  (The committee heard extensive testimony from the Minnesota Department of Education about its dyslexia guidebook and guidebook development process.)

Within one year of its appointment, the advisory committee must submit to DPI a draft guidebook containing at least all of the following information: (1) guidelines on screening processes and tools available to identify dyslexia and related conditions, (2) a description of interventions and instructional strategies that have been shown to improve academic performance of pupils with dyslexia and related conditions, and (3) a description of resources and services related to dyslexia and related conditions that are available to pupils with dyslexia and related conditions, parents and guardians of such pupils, and educators.

The DPI must publish the guidebook with three months of receiving the advisory committee’s draft.   Following publication of the guidebook, any school board that maintains an Internet site must include a link to the guidebook on that website.

A point of contention regarding the guidebook proposal was whether to include a provision prohibiting members of the guidebook development advisory committee from having a financial interest in certain products or programs related to dyslexia. Study committee members ultimately voted to strip the prohibition from the draft bill, although reinserting such a prohibition into the draft at a later point in the legislative process after a more thorough debate of the definition of “financial interest” remains an option.

The study committee also made three recommendations concerning teacher licensing and reading instruction.  It recommended that lawmakers consider:

1)      options to ensure that all applicants for an educator license must fulfill requirements to complete student teaching, obtain a passing score on the FoRT test, and other requirements demonstrating that the applicant is highly qualified. (This should include reviewing the effectiveness of alternative licensure pathways that have fewer requirements.);

2)      the repercussions of the lifetime educator license created in the 2017-19 Biennial Budget Act and its impact on teacher effectiveness. (This should include options to ensure that all licensed teachers are required to have ongoing professional development.); and

3)      the effectiveness of broadened grade ranges for educator licenses issued under current ch. PI 34, Wis. Adm. Code.  (This should include examining the repercussions of K-9 and 4-12 licensing bands on sufficient teacher preparation and student outcomes.)

An aspect of this study committee’s work that bears noting is that it focused attention  on Wisconsin’s long stagnant results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests of reading.  Often called the “nation’s report card,” NAEP test results are one of the most widely recognized measures for comparing states’ progress on educational achievement and achievement gaps.

Wisconsin remains one of a relative handful of states without laws outlining how schools should help students with dyslexia.  Numerous other states have taken steps similar to those recommended by this study committee. Several of those states have seen progress in their reading scores and now surpass Wisconsin in rankings of reading scores on the NAEP tests.

Read more:  Isthmus (Madison newsweekly) article

Next in the series:  A look at the “Dark Store” Study Committee and its recommendations