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Special Educators Missing Vital Training on Reading Skills, Says New Report

Only 11 states have licensing tests that measure whether both elementary special and general educators have mastered the specific building blocks of reading instruction. 

That analysis comes from the Washington-based National Council on Teacher Quality, which analyzed the licensing tests for elementary teachers nationwide. 

In 2000, the National Reading Panel synthesized decades of research in reading instruction and identified several pillars of scientifically-valid reading instruction, including comprehension, fluency, phonemic awareness, phonics and vocabulary. The Institute for Education Sciences released in 2016 a practice guide that also outlined the foundational skills needed to support early readers

But that knowledge is sometimes assessed only partially on state licensing exams, NCTQ found. In some cases, teachers can pass their licensing test without having to demonstrate that knowledge at all. 

And in in five states—Alabama, New Mexico, Minnesota, Mississippi, and New Hampshire—NCTQ found that general elementary-education teachers are asked to demonstrate their knowledge of the science of reading, but special education teachers are not. That's particularly worrisome because so many students are first referred to special education because they are struggling to read, said Elizabeth Ross, the managing director of state policy for NCTQ and the author of this report. 

"Every child, including special education students who are among our most vulnerable students, deserves a teacher who is prepared to teach them how to read," Ross said.

Many elementary teacher licensing exams include tests about reading instruction, Ross noted. But those questions may be mixed with other English-language arts subjects or other content areas. That means a teacher candidate could pass the test without necessarily demonstrating proficiency in reading science.

The good news, Ross said, is that 11 states are doing exactly what NCTQ recommends: assessing general and special educators on evidence-based reading practices. Those states are Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Indiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Wisconsin. 

Those states are also using a variety of assessment methods, including state- and commercially-developed tests, she said. "States have a number of options in moving forward," she said. "The solution here is a straightforward one." 


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