School board gets update on Act 20 requirements

Literacy coach notes legislature considering pushing back start date
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

An update on implementing Wisconsin Act 20 regarding literacy instruction shows there’s some work ahead for public schools, according to a report Feb. 26 to the Wittenberg-Birnamwood School Board, but the big question is when everything will need to be in place.

Act 20 requires all Wisconsin schools to provide early literacy instruction that is based on science, which includes phonics, oral language development and vocabulary building, among other things. The Wittenberg-Birnamwood School District is utilizing Science of Reading, which includes research on teaching reading through five basic concepts — phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.

Nicole Steigerwald, a literacy coach, told the board that one of the provisions for Act 20 is for early reading interventions for kindergarten through third grade students who are below the 25th percentile on reading assessments. She noted that the interventions would not apply to 4-year-old kindergarten classes.

“We will identify those kids, give them a plan that will include diagnostic assessments, which means we target where they’re struggling, and then we will provide interventions,” Steigerwald said. “We have to have all of this written down — what interventions we would provide, as well as progress monitoring to make sure they’re making growth and a parent notification program.”

A universal screener will be picked by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction for all schools in the state. According to Steigerwald, the screener will do assessments for 4-year-old kindergarten students twice a year and for regular kindergarten through third grade three times per year.

“That screener has not been picked yet,” Steigerwald said. “We haven’t even seen a tentative list, so we don’t know if what we have will stay, or if we have to learn a new one.”

The district will have to provide professional development training for Science of Reading by July 1, 2025, according to Steigerwald.

Three reading curricula are being developed by DPI, and Witt-Birn’s existing program does not quite meet the curricula being developed, Steigerwald said. However, the local reading program is only off by a 10th of a point, so she’s hopeful that the district wouldn’t have to alter much to meet the standards.

Steigerwald added the reading curricula eyed by DPI are not widely viewed by schools as the best of teaching reading.

“They’ve gotten a lot of heat for not being culturally responsive in their books or in their lessons,” Steigerwald said. “That also poses another risk we might not want to take.”

Nick Firari, Wittenberg Elementary-Middle School principal, noted that just because the local curriculum has not made the list does not mean that it’s not acceptable to DPI.

“When they put it out there, they said you would have to supplement it specifically with some of the phonics pieces, which we have already implemented this year,” Firari said. “We’re doing that in the early grade levels.”

Steigerwald pointed out that the Wisconsin Legislature introduced a bill last week that would push back the implementation of Act 20. Instead of taking effect in 2024, the bill would implement the new reading requirements in 2025, she said.

“Everything is very unknown as of right now,” Steigerwald said.