Madison School District closer to final plan to change how reading is taught

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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- The Madison Metropolitan School District is getting closer to finalizing plans to change the way it teaches kids to read.

The district's current elementary reading materials haven't seen an update in 10 years. With the help of a $40,000 grant from the Department of Public Instruction plans are in motion to sharpen reading skills for kindergarten through fifth grade students in Madison. “We know there is more that we can do and more that we want to do given the research and science of reading is telling us," said Lisa Kvistad, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning.

Research is revealing a startling truth about reading levels in Wisconsin. "Wisconsin actually has one of the biggest gaps in reading comparing students of color to white students actually in the nation and Madison also has a large achievement gap," said Kvistad.

Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress also shows less than half of Wisconsin students had proficient or better reading scores last year. The district says it’s putting work into bridging these gaps. "Our staff and families told us they wanted something that was more culturally and linguistically responsive," said Kvistad.

District officials are going back to the drawing board when it comes to phonics. This includes changes to the curriculum, books kids learn to read, and how teachers introduce vocabulary and language. "We want to take the first part of the process to actually help prepare our staff to receive the new materials," said Kvistad.

The district says the changes will help keep kids engaged and make things easier on teachers. Theresa Morateck, Director of Literacy and Humanities says a lot of leg work has gone into this. "We met with parents out in libraries out in the community. We met with teachers, we have met with instructional coaches," she said.

Morateck says getting input from the community has been valuable to help lead the process and establishing a vision for reading in Madison. There is also a large review committee made up of teachers, administrators, and stakeholders who are putting time into looking through programs. A field study is also underway to get feedback about how to successfully implement the changes.

Morateck says it’s important to give teachers the tools they need to be prepared for when the new reading materials become available. "This is a special opportunity that we're excited for that does come along once in a career and we want to do it right," she said.

The district hope transition into the changes during the 2021-2022 school year which will give them time to get input from incoming superintendent Matthew Gutierrez.