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State Lawmakers Considering New Reading Plan Regarding Licensing of State Elementary Teachers

Saturday, November 18th, 2023 -- 11:00 AM

(Corrinne Hess, Wisconsin Public Radio) Wisconsin elementary school teachers could become licensed without demonstrating they can effectively teach children the science of reading under a plan being considered by lawmakers. 

According to Corrinne Hess with Wisconsin Public Radio, the proposal is on the table just months after the state Legislature passed a sweeping bill attempting to improve reading outcomes by overhauling how children are taught to read, with schools now required to use a science of reading approach.

The new bipartisan plan working its way through the Legislature would exempt teachers from having to pass the Foundations of Reading test, commonly called FORT, before entering the classroom. It's not the first time legislators are revisiting the testing requirement.

Legislation was passed in 2019 exempting special education applicants from the FORT exam as long as they could demonstrate to the Department of Public Instruction they have completed a course of study that "satisfies several criteria including competency in phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension."

The proposed bill, authored by Sen. Mary Felzkowski, R-Irma, and state Rep. Jeff Mursau, R-Crivitz, extends that exception to applicants for all licenses that require the FORT exam.

Lawmakers, DPI and the Wisconsin Association of School Boards say the change is necessary to help alleviate the state’s teacher shortage. For years, the FORT test has had dismal results. Only 54 percent of first-time test takers passed for the 2020-21 school year.

That’s down from 66 percent in 2014-15. But some reading advocates and teachers say the onus should be on colleges and universities to better prepare their education students to teach, rather than throw away the test.

Curtis Kadow is a third grade teacher at Kosciuszko Elementary School in Cudahy. Kadow did not have to take the FORT test, he became a teacher before the test was implemented 11 years ago. Still, Kadow sees value in the test.

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