Rationale for Revising the Early Reading Standard

The overarching goal of all NCTQ 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 critical for sound teaching. All teachers must possess the content and pedagogical knowledge, including the focused content knowledge for teaching, that define teaching as a profession.

Literacy has been recognized as the critical foundation for success in schooling, 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 these students are highly unlikely to ever learn to read well without highly targeted intervention.231 The most recent 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress presents an even bleaker picture, with fourth grade scores declining in 17 states and eighth grade scores declining in 31 states between 2017 and 2019, all before the COVID-19 pandemic.232 The National Institutes of Health has demonstrated that this unacceptable rate of reading failure, which disproportionately harms students of color, can be reduced to less than 1 in 10 students when teachers provide reading instruction grounded in the science of reading.

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, therefore, 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).

Given the persistence of teacher preparation programs not teaching the science of reading and the compelling need to provide programs with more explicit feedback on how to improve, it is time for NCTQ to update its evaluation processes to raise the bar regarding what elementary teachers should learn about the science of reading. 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 to unnecessarily 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). 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

Updating this standard also gives NCTQ the opportunity to add additional elements relevant to struggling readers and the range of learners in classroom, such as English language learners and students who speak English language variations, resurrecting in part an earlier NCTQ standard on teaching reading to EL populations but which was dropped in 2014 in an effort to reduce the number of active standards.


Establishing a Foundation for the Standard

The refreshed Reading Foundations standard builds upon the principles embedded in the previous standard and continues to include an examination of course requirements, syllabi, textbooks and other required readings, as well as course assignments and assessments. However, since the publication of What Education Schools Aren't Teaching About Reading–and What Elementary Teachers Aren't Learning in 2006, the body of research on content and pedagogical knowledge for teaching reading has continued to solidify regarding the importance of the explicit way in which reading should be taught. While the underlying core principles of what constitutes effective reading instruction has not changed, new guidance from IES and the What Works Clearinghouse as well as a compilation of the research by the Florida Center for Reading Research informs how NCTQ will assess effective classroom practices in the revised standard.237

The External Advisory Panel includes five reading experts, three of whom serve as university reading faculty. Additional members will be added once the open comment period is complete. 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 syllabi analysis.

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 amount239 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.


Considerations for the Methodology for the Revised Standard

The External Advisory Panel recommended that the five components of reading all be present and given equal weight in order for a program to be awarded the highest rating, similar to the current standard. The panel identified four types of evidence discernible in a course syllabus that would demonstrate the presence of the components.

What is needed to demonstrate sufficient coverage
Assigned readings
Readings and/or textbooks 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.
Class time (in person, asynchronous, synchronous, and hybrid)
Class time reserved for the component and its use in reading instruction and how to assess student progress is equal to or greater than the average time dedicated by strong programs. (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 of sufficiency.
Application/clinical practice opportunities
Reading coursework and/or accompanying practice include more than one clinical practice session on this component and/or its use in reading instruction and how to assess student progress.


Proposed 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. However, given the evidence base that has emerged and the critical importance of reading instruction in predicting student success, NCTQ sought from the External Advisory Panel a fair and accurate process for raising expectations for a program in order to qualify for the highest rating.

The External Advisory Panel explored various sources to draft a recommendation for the number of class instructional hours that should be dedicated to each component of reading instruction, including current elementary teacher preparation programs that previously had strong scores as well as state guidance. Previously, the standard only accounted for the class time (determined by analysis of syllabi topics) for one course, or the course with the most time dedicated to that particular component (i.e. fluency). The panel proposed to include all class time across any required courses in an elementary prep program. Based on evidence noted above, experts on the panel recommended new minimum hours of in-class instructional hours (considering a three-credit course includes 45 hours of class time):
  • Phonemic awareness: 7 hours
  • Phonics/decoding (includes alphabet knowledge and orthography, and encoding - spelling): 8 hours
  • Vocabulary (includes oral language development): 6 hours
  • Fluency: 4 hours
  • Comprehension (includes syntax, text structures): 9 hours 
Additionally, the panel advised assessing if programs were specifically addressing strategies related to three compelling needs: English learners, students with dialects other than mainstream English, and struggling readers recommending a minimum of two hours of instruction for each student group.


Summary of Open Comment Period Responses

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.


Who responded during the open comment period?

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% 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.


Findings: Evaluating the claim

Almost all respondents (89%) agreed or strongly agreed that it was important for programs to meet this 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." Additionally, respondents also agreed (86%) that evaluating preparation programs to meet the claim will provide insight into the quality of the program.

The comments were largely positive. A few themes emerged, beyond generally supportive statements.

Several respondents wrote comments in support of including content and pedagogy in the claim and standard.

"Thanks for lifting up not just content but also pedagogy."

"A focus on evidence-based content and pedagogical knowledge can help limit the study of contradictory, non-evidence-based instruction."

Several respondents noted that defining some terms would be beneficial.

"Define elementary teacher candidates. Does that include 4-8?"

"I strongly agree and I wonder how is "equitable instruction" defined? It can be interpreted differently."

"'Evidence-based' - I'm reminded of a university professor when asked about his/her opinion of the National Reading Panel Report responded "That's their research." which is to say she didn't buy it and would continue to teach whole language. Wherever "evidence-based" is referenced, it should be clear that the "evidence" is based on rigorous scientific research."

NCTQ reviewed all the responses and will share the feedback from the open comment period with the Expert Advisory Panel to finalize the claim.


Findings: Content of the standard

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."

Nearly all 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.

However, some respondents did make some recommendations in relation to the five components or elements deemed missing from the proposed standard.

Proposed considerations to the content of the standard Example comments NCTQ response
Writing (N=23) "Based on current brain research (Moats, 2020, Speech to Print Language Essentials for Teachers 3rd edition) as well as the plethora of requests that we receive regarding needing professional learning in the area of writing, we would like to add Writing instruction to the list of reading components."

"Written expression instruction is closely aligned to reading instruction and should be taught concurrently to strengthen the development of reading skills."
NCTQ strongly agrees that writing is critical to the development of reading and has long been investigating (unsuccessfully) various ways to measure the quality of writing instruction using available course documents. Lacking a way to practically assess instruction on this skill, the expert advisory panel agreed to limit the focus of the newly revised standard to the five components originally identified by the National Reading Panel.
Oral Language Development (N=15) "While outside of the seminal research on these 5 components, it is critical to include Oral Language development as a foundation for PA."

"Oral language is essential. Many researchers claim that oral language is essential. It provides the foundation for all language."
NCTQ strongly agrees that oral language is an essential component as a foundation for language. In the current iteration of the standard, oral language is included with the consideration of vocabulary.
Phonological Awareness (N=5) "Should it be Phonological Awareness [The umbrella term that includes Phonemic Awareness.], rather than just Phonemic Awareness? For example, people often emphasize Phonemic Awareness, however, skills like rhyme and syllabication - which are important pre-reading skills, are part of phonological awareness. It is just a point for discussion."

"Phonological Awareness (of which Phonemic Awareness is a part) Perhaps your assumption is that it is included there? Castles, A., Rastle, K, & Nation, K. (2018)..."
Phonological awareness is an umbrella term that includes phonological sensitivity tasks such as syllables and onset-rime, while phonemic awareness includes isolation, blending, segmenting, and manipulating individual phonemes. The Expert Advisory Panel focused on phonemic awareness because research found that the larger unit tasks (e.g. syllable, onset-rime) of phonological awareness are not a prerequisite for phonemic awareness and, in fact, can impede the development of phonemic awareness. Additionally, several studies have shown that awareness of those larger units actually occurs after children develop phonemic awareness, when they begin to "chunk" words. Although our experts recognize the difference between these terms, at this time, phonological awareness references are credited within the phonemic awareness component.344
Culturally Responsive Instruction (N= 5)
"Provide future teachers with the ability to offer their students reading experiences that build on the culture and background of the students. For instance, reading materials should include characters and graphics that reflect the race and background of students in order to make positive connections. (See brain based research on impacts of culturally responsive practices.)"

"Students need to be taught the linguistic perspective of language. Research support: LETRS"
We strongly agree that culturally and linguistically responsive instruction is critical to providing meaningful reading experiences for students. Culture and background are considered in the revised standard though as newly introduced this year, we will not be scoring programs on this factor. NCTQ is collecting information on how programs attend to English language learners, as well as students who speak language variations of English (such as African American English).


Findings: Additional content for the standard

In considering additional elements to the reading standard, 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 other English variations 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%)
Several respondents support the key knowledge and skills.

"OSSE suggests adding time for culturally and linguistically diverse students, English learners, identifying reading difficulties and a separate section for reading instruction."

"The degree to which a candidate knows where to start in helping a struggling reader, is a good litmus for how effective a program has prepared them to teach reading. In my experience, when asked the question: "So how would you help a struggling reader; what's the first thing you would do?" Deer in headlights ;-)"

Several respondents expressed concern over the inclusion of some of these elements.

"There just isn't the time or space within a 4-year program (which oftentimes takes students 5 years with minors or double majors) to include classes that also teach EL skills and strategies so that these general classroom teachers are prepared to design and teach such lessons. Integrating EL teachings alongside the literacy curriculum can be done, just not as much in-depth as a EL or TESOL program would."

"Many individuals are bilingual in languages that have no connection with English (e.g., Mandarin). While it is not a bad thing to connect a known language with a new one that is related (e.g., Spanish and English), it is not essential - and could even be confusing."

In essence, good, science-based early reading instruction is also culturally appropriate, because it builds on students' strengths and provides tools that respond to their individual needs. This understanding is what leads NCTQ to incorporate this knowledge and skills as a second part of the standard, which targets Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Instruction and Struggling Readers. As this is the first time, NCTQ is collecting evidence on these practices, this second part of the standard will provide supplementary feedback to programs on specific areas related to culturally and linguistically responsive instruction, but will not be incorporated into a program's grade.


Findings: Data sources and analysis

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

Application and clinical practice had the highest agreement at 93%, with 70% of respondents strongly agreeing of its usefulness to provide insight into a program approach to reading.

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. This feedback supports the change to the standard to include both these data sources, as opposed to the previous standard that collapsed these two elements into one.

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.


Findings: Instructional time

When asked how much time at a minimum should reading courses cumulatively dedicate to each of the following components, the respondents included:

While one might expect an audience of reading educators and others highly invested in reading instruction most of the individuals who replied to the Open Comment invitationmight be tempted to set unrealistically high standards for the time spent on elementary teachers must take, there is relatively strong alignment with their responses and the recommendations by the Expert Advisory Panel.
  • The plurality of respondents (31%) said that six to seven hours of instructional time was needed for phonemic awareness, aligning with the Panel recommendation of seven hours. However, Phonemic awareness had the least agreement, with 30% suggesting times below 6-7 hours and 31% recommending 8 hours or more.
  • The plurality of respondents (36%) stated that Phonics needs eight to nine hours of instructional time, aligning with the Panel recommendation of 8 hours.
  • 38% of respondents stated that Fluency needed four to five hours of instructional time, aligning with the Panel recommendation of 4 hours.
  • The plurality of respondents (37%) said that Vocabulary needs six to seven hours, aligning with the Panel recommendation of six hours.
  • 34% of respondents stated that Comprehension needs nine hours of instructional time, aligning with the Panel recommendation of nine hours. 30% of respondents suggested 10 or more hours.
Overall, the respondents to the survey concur with the Expert Advisory Panel recommendations. This feedback will be presented to the Expert panel and a final judgment process will take place to finalize the standard.


Findings: Grading structure

Overall most respondents 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.

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

Some respondents noted some other considerations for the grading structure.

"I do not believe that each component should have an assigned amount of time as this may communicate to some that we ignore integration of these components. For instance, PA and phonics can be taught in isolation but also appear in writing. Vocabulary and background knowledge overlap with comprehension. Fluency overlaps with Phonics. To treat them as distinct components in terms of time served may undermine some of this integration and classroom application."

"University literacy faculty aren't often former teachers who have actually taught children to read. This should not stand. We need to assure faculty are former teachers with at least 3 years of classroom teaching experience to train reading teachers."


Preliminary Information on the New Reading Foundations Standard

In March 2022 we are reaching out to programs to request course materials related to our Reading Foundations standard. While the specific grading rubric is still being finalized, the below summarizes the markers of exemplary programs for each category under the new standard.
Category Basis Markers of exemplary programs
Support for Understanding Assigned textbooks or readings
Readings and/or textbooks explain the research underlying the component and its application in reading instruction for all students, and including assessment, and do not include information that contradicts the science of reading.

See our reading textbook database here.
In-class instruction Class time
Class time is reserved for the component and its use in reading instruction including assessment.
Objective Measures of Knowledge Quizzes, tests, and exams consistent with the science of reading Component addressed in quizzes, tests and/or exams
Written assignments
Graded written assignments address the component and/or its use in reading instruction including its assessment.
Practice/ Application
Instruction of K-12 students, or a simulation of instruction.
Reading coursework and/or accompanying practice include clinical practice sessions on this component and/or its use in reading instruction including its assessment.

Learn more about the new standard

This recent webinar event 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.


Next Steps

NCTQ will re-convene the Expert Advisory Panel to discuss the feedback from the open comment survey and to determine final decisions in regards to the grading rubric. These updates will be communicated to teacher preparation programs and the public as soon as decisions are finalized based on the guidance of the Expert Advisory Panel and the Technical Advisory Group.

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