Teacher preparation programs are not adequately preparing teachers to provide “effective reading instruction,” according to 60% of the literacy educators, researchers and experts responding to this year’s “What’s Hot in Literacy Survey” from the International Literacy Association.
And the 1,443 respondents — more than half of which are teachers — said the greatest challenge facing literacy is “addressing disconnects between the school curriculum and students’ actual needs in terms of literacy support and instruction.”
Respondents also said addressing inequity in education and instruction is the area where they need the most support, and almost three-fourths said variability in teachers’ knowledge is the greatest barrier to achieving that goal.
“The majority of teachers shoulder the responsibility for equity in education but more than half lack the support they need,” said Charmaine Riley, a spokeswoman for ILA.
The organization has been conducting the survey for more than 20 years. The respondents represent 65 countries and territories, with the U.S. and Canada among the top responding countries.
Chiefs gathering to discuss literacy
The survey results come as several state education chiefs, literacy experts and others gather in Washington Thursday to discuss a lack of growth in U.S. students’ literacy performance on both national and international tests — what some are calling a crisis.
State superintendents from the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, North Dakota, Arkansas and Mississippi are among those expected to participate. And many in attendance are likely to be interested in what the District of Columbia Public Schools and Mississippi are doing that led to growth in scores on the most recent National Assessment of Education Progress while many states saw declines.
U.S. results on the recent Program for International Student Assessment showed similar patterns, with higher-performing students generally improving over time and those at the lowest levels losing ground or remaining stagnant.
The gathering is "the first step in what will be an ongoing conversation among state chiefs," said Carissa Moffat Miller, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers. "CCSSO’s ultimate goal is to work with chiefs and experts in the field to create a policy brief of actions states can take to help improve student literacy skills and support states in making those actions a reality for students.”
Training rated low
The ILA survey is also a timely preview to an updated assessment of how teacher education programs are preparing educators to teach reading. Next week, the National Council on Teacher Quality, which regularly rates teacher preparation programs on a range of topics, will release its review of how more than 1,000 pre-service programs train elementary teachers to teach children to read. NCTQ’s analysis of syllabi looked for how programs address five areas of reading instruction — phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension strategies.
According to the survey, teachers were slightly more likely to say they were trained to teach reading using a “literature-based” approach rather than a phonics approach — 69% compared to 63%. Fifty-nine percent said their program emphasized phonemic awareness. But regardless of the method, only about a third or fewer of the respondents said their pre-service programs did an “excellent” or “very good” job teaching them that method.
Even though recent reports highlight the gaps in how teachers were trained to teach phonics and phonemic awareness, respondents still say using “a balanced approach that combines both foundational and language comprehension instruction” is the most important topic for building students’ early literacy skills.
In order, the other topics chosen as most critical were:
- Determining effective strategies for struggling readers.
- Increasing equity and opportunity for all learners.
- Increasing professional learning opportunities.
- Increasing access to high-quality diverse books and content.
Administrators also identified those as top five trending issues, but among teachers, 38% also listed systematic and explicit phonics instruction a top issue, and the same percentage included equity in the top five. In higher education, literacy professionals were just as likely to name teaching critical literacy skills and how to analyze source material among their top five as they were diverse books and content.
Respondents also weighed in on topics they think get too much attention, as well as those they say deserve more. Equity and opportunity topped the list, with 54% saying the issue should receive more attention, followed by professional learning, using a balanced approach to instruction and determining effective strategies for struggling readers.
But two of the topics they think are receiving too much focus are digital literacy and using summative test results to determine students’ literacy skills at the end of an instructional period.
Half of the respondents said they need more support or professional development in differentiating instruction. Eighty-two percent of the respondents said school and district leaders should provide direction, leadership and support related to professional development opportunities. More than 80% said administrators should also be responsible for “cultivating a professional learning network.”
Other key findings of the survey include:
- Ninety-three percent of respondents said research is the “backbone of effective literacy instruction,” and 44% said they need more support keeping up with the latest research.
- Forty-nine percent said they want more PD on using digital resources, which ILA notes is interesting considering respondents were evenly split on whether digital literacy gets too much attention.
- More than half of respondents — 61% — said they need more time to collaborate with colleagues or discuss similar challenges.