The Student News Site of Shorewood High School

Shorewood Ripples

The Student News Site of Shorewood High School

Shorewood Ripples

The Student News Site of Shorewood High School

Shorewood Ripples

Act 20 prompts K-8 curriculum changes

In July of 2023, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s (DPI) Act 20 was approved by state legislators and passed into law. Act 20 primarily impacts grades K3, but many schools across the state are undergoing overall literacy instruction changes to standardize curriculum across districts. Act 20 puts heavy emphasis on science-based early literacy instruction, and state schools must implement specific plans for students that do not meet requirements.

“The bill has requirements of what should happen in kindergarten through third grade in all schools [across the state],” said Mike Joynt, Director of Teaching and  Learning. “How we are responding [to] it is we are looking at our K-8 grade literacy curriculum, because if we are going to change something, we want the entire student experience to be consistent.”

A science-based literacy curriculum includes systematic and explicit instruction such as phonological awareness, oral language development, reading fluency and comprehension, increasing vocabulary, and more.

 “This [bill is] focused on the science of reading, and the underpinnings of what kids need to do skill-wise in order to be able to sound out, make sounds, and then turn those into words and then words into meaning,” said Laurie Burgos, Shorewood Superintendent. “[The legislation is about] identifying different assessment tools that school districts have to use to monitor progress that students are making in their reading and also curricular materials.”

Act 20 was created to combat declining literacy rates across Wisconsin and helps to build new, structured requirements to meet pre-existing state standards. Additionally, this structure is intended to coordinate teaching strategies throughout the state, though, to Burgos, there are many potential solutions. 

“I think that there isn’t just one solution to all that’s going on with literacy,” Burgos said. “I do think having high quality instructional materials is critical, and having materials that support the art that our teachers bring to their classrooms is really important.”

The bill requires an increase in testing, and with it, more provisions to help struggling students develop their reading ability. The Shorewood School District already uses the FastBridge Learning screener to test literacy skills and comprehension levels, so Shorewood students will not see a major uptick or change in assessments.

“The spirit of the bill are things that are just good teaching and that are already in place [at Shorewood], it’s the specifics of the bill that we have to respond to,” Joynt said. “The biggest thing [in the bill] we don’t have right now is specific training required for all administrators and [K-8] teachers. We don’t have specific reading training, it’s more we teach teachers how to teach the courses or curriculum that they teach…it’s just more of the specifics that we have to be sure we are in compliance with.”

Shorewood teachers have expressed concern regarding the additional workload that will come with the structured curriculum changes that are required.

“I think that [adopting new curriculum] is going to be a heavy lift, and it’s my sincere hope that we find ways to collaborate on behalf of students, and we invest in teachers’ questions and needs so we don’t feel like we have to figure it out on our own,” said Amy Miller, Lake Bluff multi-age teacher. 

Miller questions the diversity of content if the curriculum is standardized across schools, and whether the seemingly haphazard requirements of the bill are what’s best for students. 

“You can change the way you teach when you know what you’re teaching… you can’t make modifications to something until you understand what it is and how it’s intended to be taught,” Miller said. “So when you have a new curriculum, every day is…you [trying] to stay one step ahead of your students.”

Over the past few years, the DPI raised concerns about ‘opportunity myth’ and whether or not students are provided with adequate, grade-level knowledge. 

“Hence the name the opportunity myth…, we believe that we’re giving kids these grade level opportunities, but actually we’re asking them to perform tasks that are beneath the grade level, and then we’re never really getting them there,” Burgos said. “That can be exacerbated when you don’t have high quality materials.”

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Wisconsin has over 400 public school districts, and at least 79% of school districts surveyed by the DPI in 2021 said they use curriculums that don’t meet academic standards recommended by the department.” 

Miller acknowledges the state’s interests in creating a level playing field for all students but is unsure if including a more “scripted” curriculum is the best way forward. 

“Everyone wants students who are reading at grade level and are getting the support that they need if they’re not yet reading at grade level…but I don’t think that [implementing more structure into curriculum] is the way to do it,” Miller said.

On the other hand, Burgos believes that Act 20 will take pressure off of educators to create entire curricula on their own.

“I don’t want our teachers feeling like they can’t do the fun things that they used to do or that we can’t do different projects or integrate the arts into our classroom experience every day… we don’t want to get to a place where teachers are reading a script… that’s not how it’s designed to be,” Burgos said. “We value curiosity and creative thinking… That ‘s something that we continue to prioritize in our community, so we’ll want to make sure that whatever choices we make are still within the requirements.”

With the curricula requirements already formed, Miller expressed concern that the autonomy of individual teachers will be limited.

“From my reading of [Act 20], a district is unable to identify what its needs are for its students in a way that meets the students’ needs with intention,” Miller said. “I have concerns about the timeline [and] that there isn’t a lot of educator voice in the process.” 

Madison’s Early Literacy Curriculum Council, composed of three individuals selected by the DPI, three selected by the Speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly and three selected by the Senate Majority Leader, created four curricula that schools districts can choose from: CKLA, Wit and Wisdom, EL, and Bookworms. The selected curricula are not required by the bill, but if districts choose from this list, state funding and support will follow.

“It would make sense that, as we are looking for a new curriculum, we would adopt one on the list to help fund the program…it is unclear how much will be funded by the State, and it is hard for the State to predict that because they don’t know how many districts will be applying for this money,” Joynt said. “It is hard for us to budget for that and that is why, when we passed our referendum, it allowed us to build up our budget so that we can fund these unpredictable pieces.”

In addition to the curriculum adoption, added expenses come with this shift in instruction. 

“There is a required reading training and…a lot of companies that provide the training have increased their rates, because they know that all districts are required to go through this training,” Joynt said. 

Burgos believes that Shorewood’s qualified teachers will rise to the challenge of a changing curriculum.

“These changes can be really hard, but our staff are always willing to step up and roll up their sleeves,” Burgos said.

Act 20 will take effect at the start of the 20242025 school year, and the school district has yet to select a literacy curriculum. Preparations have begun, and additional teacher training will be held in August.