The overarching goal of all NCTQ Teacher Prep Review standards is to ensure that each K-12 student has the opportunity to learn from a qualified teacher with the content and pedagogical knowledge recognized as essential for sound teaching.

Literacy provides the critical foundation for success in school, work, and citizenship. Yet more than a third of American children cannot read at grade level by the 4th grade, with substantially higher rates of illiteracy recorded for Black and Hispanic students. Unfortunately, research shows that struggling readers are highly unlikely to ever learn to read well without highly targeted intervention.231 The most recent 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) presents an even bleaker picture, with fourth grade scores declining in 30 states and eighth grade scores declining in 33 states between 2019 and 2022, as the COVID pandemic made worse reading scores that had already been in decline.232 The National Institutes of Health has provided the roadmap to reduce this unacceptable rate of reading failure, which disproportionately harms students of color; research finds that reading failure can be reduced to less than 1 in 10 students when teachers provide reading instruction grounded in scientifically based reading instruction.724

What is scientifically based reading instruction?

Scientifically based reading instruction (SBRI) is grounded in the research on how students learn to read, which builds off the 2000 National Reading Panel report (synthesizing decades of research) that emphasized the importance of alphabetics (phonemic awareness and phonics), fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. A 2016 report by the Institute of Education Sciences examined the recommendations of the National Reading Panel and confirmed the validity of the 2000 report.

Elementary teachers need to understand and know how to teach the five core components of scientifically based reading instruction:
  • Phonemic awareness: The ability to focus on and manipulate the sounds made by spoken words
  • Phonics: The relationship between the sound of spoken words and the individual letters or groups of letters representing those sounds in written words
  • Fluency: The ability to read a text accurately and quickly while using phrasing and emphasis to make what is read sound like spoken language
  • Vocabulary: Knowledge about the meanings, uses, and pronunciation of words
  • Comprehension: Constructing meaning that is reasonable and accurate by connecting what has been read to what the reader already knows
Supported by continued advances in research on SBRI, and feedback from experts and practitioners that more rigorous instruction is needed to fully prepare new teachers to teach reading, NCTQ engaged in a multi-year revision process to revise the Reading Foundations standard.

Changes to the 2023 Reading Foundations standard in the Teacher Prep Review

In June 2023, NCTQ will debut its new Reading Foundations standard, continuing a decades-long effort to shine a light on the importance of preparing teachers with the most effective methods to teach reading, so they are well-prepared when they step into the classroom. Watch the two-minute video below to learn more.

After a multi-year revision process, including engagement with an expert panel, an open comment period, and review by a technical advisory group, NCTQ made several changes from the previous 2020 Teacher Prep Review, including:
  • Increased and differentiated expectations for the amount of instructional time programs devote to each of the five core components.
  • Reviewed programs for the presence of reading practices contrary to the research.
  • Evaluated the opportunities programs provide for candidates to practice instruction in each component.
  • Added analysis on the extent to which programs prepare aspiring teachers to teach English Learners, struggling readers, and students who speak dialects other than mainstream English language.

How are teacher preparation programs assessed under the new Reading Foundations standard?

Programs' scores on the new Reading Foundations standard are based on a robust methodology that was largely developed by experts in reading instruction with input from the field, and vetted by a technical advisory group.

To assess if aspiring teachers are likely to acquire knowledge of the five core components as part of their preparation program, NCTQ first identifies the required courses that relate to reading instruction for each elementary program, a list each program is asked to verify. Next, NCTQ sends a request for course material to each program in the universe of programs. The majority of syllabi analyzed are from Fall 2018 to Fall 2022, although some programs submitted materials from Spring 2023 in response to the preliminary analysis.

After course material is received, course-level analysis primarily relies on two sources of data:
  • Syllabi for required courses that address reading instruction, including ancillary materials such as lecture slides or assignment descriptions or other materials provided to candidates during the course
  • Textbooks for required courses that address reading instruction
A team of expert reading analysts evaluate reading syllabi and textbooks using a detailed scoring protocol. All 10 of these analysts are currently or were elementary teachers, six are certified in scientifically based reading techniques, and nine have completed at least a Masters in Science.

Expert analysts review each course for its coverage of each of the five components of scientifically based reading instruction and three components focused on supporting a range of learners across three student groups (struggling readers, English language learners, and students who speak language varieties other than mainstream English).

Course analysis for each component and for each student group is based upon evidence that the program teaches the components based on four instructional approaches:
  • Use of instructional hours to address each component, as specified by the lecture schedule, as well as course time spent on content contrary to research-based practices.
  • Requirements for candidates to demonstrate knowledge of individual components through objective measures of knowledge (assessments or written, graded assignments)
  • Requirements for practice/application of instruction or assessment on individual components.
  • Requirements for background materials (e.g., textbooks, videos, articles), explored further below.
Another team of expert analysts separately analyzes the fourth instructional approach, required background materials. These materials are identified using the required reading section of course syllabi (or university bookstore information, in instances where a list of required reading is absent from syllabi). Reviewers analyze each material for its coverage of the science of reading and attention to supporting a range of learners. The process of reviewing a book follows these steps:
  • The reviewer determines if the text was "comprehensive" (covering all five of the components) or "specialized" (designed to cover only a subset of components).
  • The reviewer determines if the content presents each component in light of the science, absent of unproven practice, and advancing a depth of knowledge not only about how students learn to read, but specifically how to teach students to read.
  • References were also checked for primary sources, researchers, and trusted peer-reviewed journals that present the consensus around the science of reading. [scoring]


Each of the five core components (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension) is assessed separately based on all four instructional approaches within each course, earning up to three points per approach or twelve points per component.
Component-level scoring (across courses)
Component-level points
Instructional approach
Instructional Hours
Number of hours summed across courses divided by the threshold times three points (capped at three points)
Objective Measures of Knowledge
No tests/ quizzes AND no graded written assignments
Part of one graded written assignment
One graded written assignment
At least one test/quiz OR more than one graded written assignment
Practice/ Application
No practice/ application sessions
Part of one practice/application session
One practice/ application session
More than one practice/application session
Background Materials (averaged within and then across courses)
Unacceptable materials earn a 0; acceptable materials earn a three. All materials on a component are averaged within a course and then across courses.

The sum of the course-level scores are used to produce a program-level score for each component (with a maximum of 12 points per component). To earn credit for adequately addressing a component, the program must earn eight of 12 available points or 67%. The five program-level component scores are used to determine the overall grade. 

Example of scoring: Phonemic awareness
Instructional approach
Component analysis (across all courses)
Points earned
Instructional Hours (based on a proportion of the total hours needed to meet the target)
4 hours out of the 7 hours needed to meet target
Objective Measures of Knowledge
One graded written assignment
One practice session
Background Materials (averaged within and then across courses)
One textbook, two supplementary materials: all deemed acceptable
Total points earned for this component

Grading for a program is based on the number of reading components for which the program receives credit. Each component (phonemic awareness, phonics fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension) is equally weighted. 
Grading rules
Program grade
Grading rule: Receive eight or more points for …
Programs earn an A, meet a higher point threshold for each component (an average of 10 points across components) and teach no content contrary to research-based practices
All five reading components
Four of the five reading components
Three of the five reading components
Two of the five reading components
One or none of the five reading components

Content contrary to research-based practices

During the analysis of course materials, NCTQ expert analysts also collect whether there is evidence that a program teaches one of nine identified practices contrary to the science of reading. If a program teaches four or more contrary practices, their letter grade is reduced by one grade.

Practices contrary to research-based practices include the following:

- Three-cueing systems
- Running records
- Miscue analysis
- Balanced literacy models
- Guided reading
- Reading Workshop
- Leveled texts
- Embedded/implicit phonics
- Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA), Informal Reading Inventory (IRI), or Qualitative Reading Inventory (QRI)

Before NCTQ publishes program scores, programs received their scores with detailed feedback on the findings from each course and had three weeks to respond to provide any additional evidence, clarifications, or corrections.

Supporting a range of learners

To evaluate whether prep programs provide instruction on how to support a range of learners (struggling readers, English learners, and students who speak English language varieties), analysts look for at least two instructional hours dedicated to each learner group, as well as evidence the program uses research-based background materials, uses objective measures of knowledge to assess candidates' knowledge of how to use specific approaches to help these student groups learn how to read, and provides practice/application opportunities related to each group of students. Programs can earn up to two points for each instructional approach for each group of students (for a total of eight points for each student group). These areas are not included in a program's grade, but programs receive detailed feedback on the evidence of their attention to supporting a range of learners.

For more information on how NCTQ evaluated whether prep programs provide instruction on how to support a range of learners, see the full Reading Foundations: Technical Report.

Revision process for the Reading Foundations standard

While the refreshed Reading Foundations standard builds upon the principles embedded in the previous reading standard, it is updated to reflect new research and guidance,237 expert input, and the views of the education field.

Rationale for Revising the Early Reading Standard

Seventeen years ago, when NCTQ began work on its Early Reading standard, now renamed the Reading Foundations standard, the pilot study showed that very few programs were teaching scientifically-based reading instruction at all. NCTQ designed the Early Reading standard to recognize the programs that gave future elementary teachers at least a basic introduction to the five components underlying the science of reading (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension) and to encourage those that did not provide this introduction to include it in their program.

Supported by continued advances in research on SBRI, and feedback from experts and practitioners that more rigorous instruction is needed to fully prepare new teachers to teach reading, NCTQ engaged in a multi-year revision process to revise the Reading Foundations standard. Knowledge of reading and the practices supported by evidence delivered by teacher preparation programs has only become more solidified233 since NCTQ began this work, but at last measure still one half of all programs fail to cover the basics of reading science in their coursework.234

At the same time, the large numbers of students who continue unnecessarily to struggle to read serve as persuasive evidence that elementary teachers are not adequately prepared to teach reading (and that schools are not choosing evidence-based curricula). A 2019 survey of elementary teachers found that when their students encountered a word they do not know, more than one in four teachers instructed the student to "look at the pictures" rather than to sound out the word.725 Most recently, the Council of Chief State School Officers, in their 2020 document, A Nation of Readers, specifically called on chief state school officers to engage with colleges and universities to revamp teacher education programs to ensure preservice educators learn the science of reading.235 Additionally, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), long a champion of strong reading instruction, renewed its commitment by issuing a new edition of its popular publication Teaching Reading is Rocket Science.236

In updating this standard, NCTQ is also adding additional elements relevant to supporting struggling readers and the range of learners in the classroom, such as English language learners and students who speak language varieties other than mainstream English. This addition emphasizes that teachers must be able to support all students to learn how to read, resurrecting in part an earlier NCTQ standard on teaching reading to EL populations which was dropped in 2014 in an effort to reduce the number of active standards.

Expert Advisory Panel

To provide input on the content of the standard, NCTQ convened an Expert Advisory Panel. This panel, which met at the outset of the revision process as well as two times after pilot data on the revised standard were collected, includes eight reading experts, five of whom currently or previously served as university reading faculty. Additionally, NCTQ brought on Linda Diamond, literacy expert and co-author of Teaching Reading Sourcebook and Assessing Reading: Multiple Measures, to advise on the revision of the standard and lead the syllabi analysis.

Open comment survey

To gather broader input from the education field, NCTQ conducted an "open comment period" in the fall of 2021, seeking feedback on the draft plans for the revised Reading Foundations standard.

The open comment period ran from September 20 through October 15, 2021. State education agencies, leaders of teacher preparation programs, reading faculty at teacher preparation programs, advocacy groups, state teachers' union leaders, state school board members, state legislators on education committees, state governors' education policy advisors, superintendents, and chief academic officers of the nation's 500 largest school districts, and other potentially interested parties received an email notifying them of this opportunity to provide feedback. This list totaled over 14,000 contacts. The open comment period was also advertised through NCTQ's monthly newsletter, the Teacher Quality Bulletin, which has a subscriber list of 6,400 individuals.

We received 239 responses to the online survey, in addition to several responses emailed directly to NCTQ. The majority of respondents (69%) were from teacher preparation programs; another 8% were from state education agencies and 7% from school or district-based staff. The rest of the respondents identified as being affiliated with a higher education institution but not a teacher preparation program (2%); another 3% identified as a member of an advocacy group, while 3% were education researchers. Most respondents (79%) reported that they have at some point helped develop reading courses for teacher candidates.

Feedback on the claim of the standard

Revising the NCTQ reading standard begins with establishing the foundation or claim,238 or what can be said about each preparation program being examined. The underlying claim drives the evidence that is being evaluated and the data sources being gathered. The following claim was developed based on research and input from our External Advisory Panel.

Claim: Educator preparation programs provide elementary teacher candidates with the evidence-based content and pedagogical knowledge in reading that underlies effective and equitable reading instruction.

Based on the claim, the panel developed a revised foundation for the standard and made a number of recommendations for the scoring system to be used for the standard. The External Advisory Panel identified four indicators that signal reading coursework required of teacher candidates is sufficient:

1. The five fundamental components of reading (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension) and their use in teaching reading (including assessment), are manifested in two ways:
a. Background/reading materials that accurately present the underlying science behind each component and the use of the component; and
b. An appropriate amount of instructional time for each component.

2. The coursework requires teacher candidates to demonstrate knowledge of, and to practice, reading instruction reflecting each of the five essential components of reading (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension), and their application to instructing and assessing all students.

3. The program consistently emphasizes evidence-based reading instruction and does not present contradictory, non-evidence-based instruction.240

4. The instruction specifically addresses issues related to struggling readers, students who are learning English, and students who speak English language variations other than mainstream American English.

In the open comment survey, almost all respondents (89%) agreed or strongly agreed that it was important for programs to meet this claim. Additionally, respondents agreed (86%) that evaluating preparation programs based on whether they meet the claim will provide insight into the quality of the program.

Further, Survey respondents overwhelmingly agreed (95%) that based on 40 years of research there is a body of knowledge that is necessary to teach children to read that all teacher candidates should learn. Respondents also overwhelmingly agreed that the five components of effective reading instruction should underlie the Reading Foundations standard.

"Without the 5 components of reading explicitly taught, students will not become strong learners."

Recommendations on sources of evidence

The Expert Advisory Panel identified four types of evidence, or instructional approaches, discernible in a course syllabus that would demonstrate the presence of the components.

What is needed to demonstrate sufficient coverage
Background materials
Textbooks or other readings or materials explain the research underlying the component and its application in reading instruction for all students, knowledge of how to assess student progress, and do not include more than a very small amount of information that contradicts the science of reading.
Instructional hours (in person, asynchronous, synchronous, and hybrid)
Class time dedicated for the component and its use in reading instruction and how to assess student progress meets the target determined by the Expert Panel and open comment survey as to the time needed to sufficiently teacher the required knowledge base. ( See below for more information.)
Objective measures of knowledge (tests, quizzes, and written assignments)
More than one graded written assignment addresses the component and/or its use in reading instruction including knowledge of how to assess student progress. Individual parts of a large multi-part graded written assignment also provide valid evidence.
Reading coursework and/or accompanying practice include more than one clinical practice session specifically focused on the component and/or its use in reading instruction and how to assess student progress.

Respondents to the open comment survey agreed that these instructional approaches could offer insight into how a preparation program teaches reading. Nearly all survey respondents (96%) agree that early reading coursework should include coverage of scientifically-based, valid and reliable assessments, their efficacy, and how to use them in the classroom for the purpose of regularly monitoring student progress in reading.

Further, respondents generally agreed that the main components of a syllabus provide useful insight into a program's approach to reading.

Application and clinical practice (referred to as practice/application in the standard) had the highest agreement at 93%, with 70% of respondents strongly agreeing with its usefulness to provide insight into a program approach to reading.

Furthermore 80% of respondents stated that programs should have a candidate demonstrate knowledge through both an objective measure of knowledge (assignment, quiz, etc.) and application of that knowledge, rather than one or the other. This feedback supports the change to the standard to include both these data sources, as opposed to the previous standard that combined these two elements into one instructional approach (so that programs got credit for either an objective measure of knowledge or a practice opportunity).

Some respondents expressed concern over the use of these data sources.

"It can be difficult to ascertain the degree/depth in which topics are covered. Syllabi range in detail and specificity and may be misleading.... this is just one source of data."

"The amount of class time dedicated to a topic is proposed on a syllabus but may need to be adjusted given the ability of the group of students. For example, Phonological awareness instruction this year is taking more time than in past years due to evidenced student needs in this area. The best measure of if my students understand a topic is a criterion-based test like the Reading Foundations 090 Assessment (Ohio) which my students pass."

While several comments noted skepticism on the use of syllabi, 94% of those that have taught a reading course in teacher preparation agree that the syllabus generally approximates the high-level topics or themes that are covered in the class.

Changes from the previous reading standard regarding instructional time

When NCTQ began this work over 17 years ago, the standard was designed to assess whether programs were at least exposing elementary teacher candidates to evidence-based reading instruction. In doing so, the expectation of instructional hours was set as a low baseline (looking for only two class periods on each component). Given the evidence base that has emerged and the critical importance of reading instruction in predicting student success, NCTQ developed a revised guideline for instructional hours based on feedback from the External Advisory Panel and the field via an open comment survey.

Another notable change is that the previous version of the standard only accounted for the class time for each component based on the course with the most time dedicated to that particular component (e.g., if one course spent one class period on fluency and another course spent half of a class period on fluency, only the instructional hours from the first course would count toward a program's grade). The panel proposed including all class time across any required courses in an elementary prep program. Experts on the panel recommended new minimum hours of in-class instructional hours (considering a three-credit course includes 45 hours of class time), and survey respondents provided their recommended instructional hours for each component. The final instructional hours expected by the standard are based on these recommendations:

Instructional hours by component
Phonemic awareness
Expert panel
7 hours
8 hours
4 hours
6 hours
9 hours
Survey (average)
6.2 hours
7.1 hours
5.1 hours
6.3 hours
7.4 hours
Survey (modal response)
4 to 5; 6 to 7 hours
8 to 9 hours
4 to 5 hours
6 to 7 hours
10 or more hours
Hours threshold used in the updated Reading Foundations standard
7 hours
8 hours
4 hours
6 hours
9 hours

Supporting a range of learners

The panel advised assessing if programs were specifically addressing strategies related to three groups of students: English learners, students who speak language varieties other than mainstream English, and struggling readers, recommending a minimum of two hours of instruction for each student group.

Survey respondents weighed in on key topics for English language learners and students who speak English language variations other than mainstream American English.

Almost all respondents agreed that in order to support English language learners in learning how to read English, teacher preparation programs should prepare elementary teacher candidates in the following components:
  • Understanding ways to build oral and reading vocabulary (99%)
  • Understanding ways to link the first language to English (94%)
  • Understanding ways to connect students' cultural and linguistic experiences to instruction (e.g. reading texts on the immigrant experience) (95%)
The largest agreement (87% of respondents strongly agreed) was on the importance of building oral and reading vocabulary for English language learners.

To support students who speak language varieties other than mainstream American English, most respondents agreed that the following topics should be taught to teacher candidates:
  • Understanding how to distinguish between the phonology, morphology, semantics, and syntax of home versus school dialects (91%)
  • Helping students to make code-switching explicit with strategies that promote bidialectism (92%)
  • Understanding ways to connect students' cultural and linguistics experiences to instruction (94%)
In relation to struggling readers, most respondents agreed teacher candidates should learn the following to be able to help struggling readers:
  • Identify the element(s) of reading with which the student is having difficulty and provide targeted, intense instruction in those areas (96%)
  • Regularly assess student progress to collect data that will drive instructional decisions (98%) [grading]

Grading structure

The Expert Advisory Panel unanimously agreed that programs should adequately teach all five components of reading to earn an A on the Reading Foundations standard. Most survey respondents also strongly agreed (71%) or agreed (22%) that programs should explicitly, systematically, and comprehensively teach all five components of reading instruction to earn an A on the new Reading Foundations standard. The panel also recommended that all five components weigh equally in scoring, similar to the previous standard.

Nearly all (92%) respondents agreed that programs have the responsibility to ensure that the content and components taught in early reading courses are consistent across course sections, regardless of who is assigned to teach the coursework.

For each component, programs can earn up to twelve points (three points per each of the four instructional approaches). Overall grades are based on how many of the five core components programs adequately teach, based on the total points earned for that component. When NCTQ presented data from a sample of programs to the Expert Advisory Panel, the Panel was generally supportive of an eight point threshold (the majority of panel members voted in favor of an eight point threshold, while one voted for nine points and one voted for six points). Given that multiple aspects of the standard have become more rigorous, NCTQ is following the recommendation of the Technical Advisory Group and the ultimate recommendation of the Expert Advisory Group to set the threshold at eight out of 12 points for programs to earn credit for a component.

Grading for a program is based on the number of reading components for which the program receives credit (as summarized in the Methodology in Brief, above). Each component—phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension—is equally weighted. For example, a program would receive a "B" if four of five reading components receive eight or more points, regardless of which four components earn eight or more points.

Learn more about the new Reading Foundations standard

This webinar, held in February 2022 and attended by deans of schools of education and teacher education department chairs features Linda Diamond, nationally recognized literacy expert, leading a discussion on Preparing Future Educators to Teach the Science of Reading. Linda shares how educator preparation programs can align their courses to the most up-to-date evidence on how children learn to read and gives an update on NCTQ's new Foundations of Reading Standard for educator preparation programs. She is joined by Dr. Heriberto Godina, Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at Texas A&M International University. Watch the full discussion below.

For more on the Reading Foundations standard, including more detailed information about the revision process, methodology, and research rationale, visit the 
Reading Foundations: Technical Report[endnotes]

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