Teacher Preparation

Teachers in These States Have to Pass a Rigorous Test on ‘Science of Reading’

By Catherine Gewertz — March 03, 2020 3 min read
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As the importance of good reading instruction attracts new attention, data show that only 19 states require aspiring teachers to pass a test that shows they’ve mastered research-based methods for teaching children to read.

Which 19 states, you ask? The list is here, in a newly updated database built by the National Council on Teacher Quality. The NCTQ has been monitoring state policies on teacher preparation for many years. What states require for aspiring elementary teachers is just one area the organization monitors.

In the most recent analysis, the NCTQ asked this question as it evaluated states’ testing requirements for aspiring teachers: Does the state require new elementary teachers to “demonstrate sufficient knowledge of the science of reading instruction?”

By “demonstrate,” the NCTQ means this: Does the state require teachers to pass a rigorous, stand-alone assessment that covers the science of reading? By “science of reading,” they mean the five components of reading instruction that the National Reading Panel, and subsequent research studies, identify as important to early reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

By that definition, only 19 states met the mark. Ten fell short because they don’t test aspiring teachers on reading instruction, and 22 fell short because their tests weren’t stand-alone exams, or weren’t sufficiently rigorous, in the NCTQ’s judgment.

See EdWeek’s series ongoing series on reading instruction, Getting Reading Right

Elizabeth Ross, who worked on the analysis as the NCTQ’s vice president for partnerships, said the organization made a stand-alone test central to its definition for a reason.

“It’s important to use a stand-alone test [in reading instruction], so candidates’ competency in one area can’t mask a deficiency in the science of reading,” she said.

Measured over time, there’s been incremental progress in whether states meet NCTQ’s bar for “adequately assessing” aspiring teachers in reading instruction. In 2015, 16 states met the organization’s standard for assessment. In 2017, the last time the NCTQ updated its data, 19 states met the bar, so there’s been no progress since then.

“We think it’s excellent that the field has acknowledged that we are at a crisis point for reading in this country and there is action that’s necessary to help all children learn how to read,” Ross said. “But we wish things were moving more quickly.”

The NCTQ singled out Texas as an example of “best practice” in ensuring that new teachers know evidence-based strategies for teaching reading. The organization reviewed the tests different states require on the topic, and found that the new one Texas is rolling out in 2021 is exemplary. Designed for Texas by Pearson, it’s called the Science of Teaching Reading.

What other tests stood out as rigorous assessments of aspiring teachers’ mastery of science-of-reading instruction? The NCTQ provided EdWeek with a list of those that met its bar for in-depth coverage of all five essential components of reading. Here it is:

    • By Pearson:

      • CORE Elementary Education Generalist Test (Indiana)
      • Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure (MTEL) Foundations of Reading test
      • Minnesota Teacher Licensure Examinations (MTLE) Elementary Education test
      • New York State Teacher Certification Exams (NYSTCE) Multi-Subject (Grades 1-6), Part One: Literacy and English Language Arts
      • Elementary Education Subtest I (Oklahoma)
      • Foundations of Reading (multiple states)
      • RICA (Reading Instruction Competence Assessment) (California)
      • Texas Educator Certification Examination, Science of Teaching Reading (forthcoming, 2021)
    • By the Educational Testing Service:

      • Praxis Teaching Reading: Elementary Education
      • Praxis Teaching Reading: Elementary Education
      • Praxis Reading for Virginia Educators

The pipeline that delivers teachers to those tests, though, has its own problems. Many teacher-preparation programs don’t fully cover the science of reading. According to a recent NCTQ analysis, 74 percent of teacher-prep programs don’t cover all five essential components of research-based reading instruction.

Image: Ashley Palmer, a kindergarten teacher in Matthews, Mo., works with students on letter names using flashcards. —Houston Cofield for Education Week

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.