- Most states are not adequately preparing elementary and special education teachers to teach reading, asserts a new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality. The report shows that while most states have standards for teacher education programs that include reading instruction, just 11 require teachers in both areas to demonstrate their knowledge on a licensing test.
- While some states require such exams for elementary school teachers, they don’t always do the same for special education teachers — “a perplexing stance given that 80% of all students are assigned to special education because of their struggle to read,” according to a press release on the report.
- The organization recommends that all states require teacher candidates to pass a test rooted in what research shows about learning how to read. Even if a test covers multiple subject areas, it should include a “subscore” of reading knowledge, they add.
The report comes at a time when courts are being asked to consider whether children have a constitutional right to literacy. Learning to read encompasses the five skills of phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. But to help students access the higher-level fiction and nonfiction texts that meet Common Core standards, experts also recommend that teachers know how to teach advanced literacy skills, such as learning content through reading — often referred to as “reading to learn.”
The NCTQ report echoes earlier findings from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, which examined how much attention teacher education programs give to reading instruction and how well graduates of those programs are demonstrating that knowledge. The study found that pre-service teachers reported that their preparation programs covered the components of reading instruction more than a little but less than a moderate amount. On a test of their own knowledge, pre-service teachers answered 57% of the questions correctly.
The report’s findings also suggest that elementary principals — especially in states that don’t require new teachers to pass tests of their knowledge of reading instruction — should find out how these fundamental skills are addressed in the colleges and universities where they are recruiting new teachers. They can also pair beginning teachers with faculty members on their staff who have had success teaching reading, and provide online and in-person professional development in reading strategies for students more likely to struggle with reading. Regular and special education teachers can also share their knowledge with each other since students are now more likely to be educated in regular classrooms with support.