Overview

A clear solution to our nation's literacy crisis

All children deserve to learn to read, and all teachers deserve the preparation and support that will allow them to help their students achieve this goal. Yet more than one-third of fourth graders—1.3 million children1 in the U.S.—cannot read at a basic level.2

Not learning how to read has lifelong consequences. Students who are not reading at grade level by the time they reach fourth grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school,3 which in turn leads to additional challenges for them as adults: lower lifetime earnings,4 higher rates of unemployment,5 and a higher likelihood of entering the criminal justice system.6 Even more alarming, the rate of students who cannot read proficiently by fourth grade climbs even higher for students of color, those with learning differences, and those who grow up in low-income households, perpetuating disparate life outcomes.7 This dismal data has nothing to do with the students and everything to do with inequities in access to effective literacy instruction.

The status quo is far from inevitable. In fact, we know the solution to this reading crisis, but we are not using the solution at scale. More than 50 years of research provides a clear picture of effective literacy instruction. These strategies and methods—collectively called scientifically based reading instruction, which is grounded in the science of reading—could dramatically reduce the rate of reading failure. Past estimates have found that while three in 10 children struggle to read (and that rate has grown higher since the pandemic), research indicates that more than 90% of all students could learn to read if they had access to teachers who employed scientifically based reading instruction.8

Currently, just over 60% of children are learning to read by 4th grade.
With effective reading instruction, we could take that to more than 90%
This means that nearly 1,000,000 additional children would reach fourth grade able to read each year.

Unfortunately, too many teachers are not trained in scientifically based reading instruction during their teacher preparation programs, so they unknowingly enter the classroom well intentioned but inadequately prepared to teach kids to read. In fact, a recent survey conducted by Education Week found most elementary special education and K-2 teachers (72%) say they use literacy instructional methods that incorporate practices debunked by cognitive scientists decades ago.9 Researchers have discovered that these strategies that are contrary to research-based practices—like teaching kids to look at the picture to help guess a word, or skipping words they do not know—are not only unhelpful, but also take up valuable instructional time that should be dedicated to scientifically based reading instruction.10

Giving teachers the knowledge and skills they need to teach reading effectively is fundamental for improving life outcomes for all children and reversing historical patterns of inequity. Through intentional program design, teacher preparation programs have a pivotal role to play in ensuring all children receive high-quality reading instruction. State education leaders—who control teacher preparation program requirements, regulations, and approvals—can also enact policies to transform reading instruction and outcomes for generations of students.

The purpose of the Teacher Prep Review is to guarantee teachers have expertise in reading instruction (as well as other essential areas NCTQ assesses)11 before being trusted to teach children to read. By regularly reviewing the reading coursework provided by over 700 elementary teacher preparation programs, the National Council on Teacher Quality seeks basic evidence that programs are using what is empirically known about how to teach reading—so every child can learn to read.

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See the methodology behind the Reading Foundations standard.
Learn how we scored programs
Voices From The Field

"This report confirms what educators have been saying for years: To help our students become joyful and confident readers, we must understand that teaching reading is not just an art, but also a science. Teachers have clamored for the tools, skills, and supports to enhance their reading instruction and help them reach all children, including those who struggle to read, especially students with dyslexia and English Language Learners."

Randi Weingarten

President, American Federation of Teachers

"Far too many students are denied the right to an excellent education, including the right to read, because they don't have access to effective literacy instruction. Teacher preparation programs are in the enviable position of ensuring every child, especially students of color and those from low-income backgrounds, has access to a teacher who is well-prepared in the methods that we know work best. NCTQ is helping elevate teacher prep programs that are doing this well that can serve as a model for others."

Denise Forte

President and CEO, The Education Trust

"Every child has the right to read. Sending teachers into the classroom without the science behind how kids learn to read puts everyone in an unfair position. As teachers, we are in this profession to always do what is best and necessary. If we aren't properly taught by the institutions we put our trust and dollars into, we are made ineffective. Most teachers eventually figure out balanced literacy is not moving the needle, and have to begin the education process all over again—this time on our own time and our own dime."

Virginia Quinn-Mooney

First grade teacher, Woodbury, CT

"Now is the time for educator preparation programs to truly understand their role in improving K-12 student outcomes. Aligning educator prep coursework to evidence-based practices grounded in the science of reading will directly impact how well teachers are prepared to teach children to read."

Kymyona Burk, Ed.D.

Senior Policy Fellow, Early Literacy, Foundation for Excellence in Education

"When he was seven, we moved our son with dyslexia from a school district that did not adhere to the science of reading to one that did—and his academic and emotional life improved dramatically. In his first few years of school, our son cried every single day because he was expected to read, yet nobody was teaching him explicitly how to do it. Though well meaning, the teachers from his original school simply did not have the tools to teach him. It was frustrating and soul crushing. In the new district where teachers leveraged scientifically-based reading instruction, our son—with time and intervention—learned to read and is now at the top of his class academically. He is happy to go to school and has a deep love of learning."

Alejandra Rojas Silva

Mother to a 13-year-old son with dyslexia, Honolulu, Hawaii (formerly Upper Arlington, Ohio)

"It is our duty as state education leaders to ensure the programs that prepare our public elementary school teachers are teaching the methods of effective reading instruction. We are incredibly proud of the results of the NCTQ analysis; the improvements in how we prepare teachers in reading will lead to real, meaningful differences for Colorado's students."

Katy Anthes, Ph.D.

Commissioner, Colorado Department of Education

"It is imperative for educator preparation programs to continue preparing graduates with the skills and knowledge of the Science of Reading so they may provide excellent reading instruction to students that will ultimately improve their academic performance. As we have worked on incorporating the Science of Reading in our programs, the support and feedback we have received from NCTQ has been incredibly instrumental in our curriculum alignment to the Science of Reading. NCTQ's thoughtful feedback continues to be an influential component to our ongoing curriculum and program improvement processes."

Art Rouse, Ph.D.

Interim Dean, College of Education, East Carolina University

"For too long, the professionals responsible for teaching children to read have been sidelined from the knowledge of instructional practices that would result in maximally effective outcomes. Instruction that includes practices based on the findings from scientifically-based reading research is necessary to ensure that ALL children are given what they deserve—the opportunity to learn to read. Teacher preparation programs that train pre-service teachers in these practices are playing a critical role in ensuring that this can happen. I commend those that are prioritizing this work and hope they receive the recognition they deserve."

Maria Murray, Ph.D.

Chief Executive Officer, The Reading League

 
Findings

Only 28% of programs adequately address all five core components of reading instruction.

Number of components programs adequately address
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To be effective, elementary teachers need to understand and know how to teach all five components of scientifically based reading instruction (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension). Because of the interconnectivity of these components, a teacher who lacks an understanding of one will be less effective teaching the others, and students who miss instruction on one component may struggle to become fully literate.

Based on a review of four instructional approaches—instructional hours, objective measures of knowledge, practice, and background materials—dedicated to each of the five components, NCTQ found only 28% of teacher preparation programs fully address all five components of scientifically based reading instruction. Even more concerning is that another 22% of programs do not adequately address any of the five components sufficiently.

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Dive Deeper
Search NCTQ's Reading Instructional Materials database to see how well programs' instructional materials—such as textbooks, articles, and videos—align to scientifically based reading instruction and find high-quality exemplars.

Nearly 40% of programs are still teaching multiple practices contrary to the research that can impede student learning.

Percent of programs teaching content contrary to research-based practices

Percent of programs

0%
10%
20%
30%
40%
Running records
35.8%

of programs

251/702 programs

Guided reading
31.9%

of programs

224/702 programs

Specific assessments, such as DRA, IRI, and QRI
22.2%

of programs

156/702 programs

Balanced literacy
15.4%

of programs

108/702 programs

Miscue analysis
13.5%

of programs

95/702 programs

Reader's Workshop
13.7%

of programs

96/702 programs

Leveled text
9.5%

of programs

67/702 programs

Three-cueing systems
9.1%

of programs

64/702 programs

Embedded/implicit phonics
0.6%

of programs

4/702 programs

Thre-cueing systems

67 programs

Info icon
Learn more about content contrary to research-based practices.
Read the full report

Phonemic awareness receives the least attention across programs.

To become skilled readers, children need to develop the ability to identify and manipulate the individual sounds within spoken words and link those sounds to the written word. This fundamental reading skill is known as phonemic awareness. Strong phonemic awareness skills allow children to isolate, blend, segment, and manipulate phonemes (the smallest units of sound within a language system) in different ways, priming them to develop phonics skills, in which they connect the sounds they hear to the letters they see. Without the ability to hear and work with phonemes, students have a hard time relating sounds to letters, essential for the next step in learning to read.12

Example of Phonemic Awareness: Substitution

Teacher: What word do I get if I change the /c/ sound in CAT to a /p/?

Student: /P/-/a/-/t/, pat!

Teacher preparation programs need to provide an adequate focus on this foundational skill. In the past decade of the Teacher Prep Review, phonemic awareness is consistently the least addressed component.13

High-performing programs ensure their courses not only dedicate instructional time and use strong background materials, but also assess candidates by requiring them to demonstrate knowledge and provide practice opportunities on the techniques they learn. For phonemic awareness, 71% of programs adequately assess candidates using objective measures of knowledge (tests, quizzes, and written assessments). Fourteen percent of programs provide adequate opportunities to practice teaching phonemic awareness.

Phonemic awareness helps lay the foundation for reading, but all the components are critical in order to develop strong readers. While phonemic awareness receives the least attention, programs generally perform strongest in comprehension, which helps students understand what they read.

Three out of five teacher preparation programs fail to adequately address phonemic awareness.

Percent of programs adequately addressing each component of scientifically based reading instruction
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See details on component coverage for each program.
Explore and search all program scores

Three in ten programs do not provide any practice opportunities connected to the core components of reading.

It seems intuitive: To get better, you need to practice. Experts agree. In a survey of stakeholders from teacher prep programs, state education agencies, schools, and districts,14 80% of respondents believed prep programs should require teacher candidates to demonstrate knowledge through both an objective measure of knowledge (e.g., text, quiz, or assignment) and application of knowledge (e.g., a practice opportunity). In teacher preparation, practice takes many forms, such as one-on-one tutoring with a student, administering a mock assessment to fellow teacher candidates, or conducting a lesson during a field experience. Regardless of the format, practicing the concepts is essential to preparing new teachers.15

Although there is widespread agreement on the importance of practice, 29% of programs do not provide any specific practice opportunities for any of the five components. Often, programs may require candidates to practice teaching a reading lesson, but do not set parameters around the content of that practice lesson (e.g., specifying that it focuses on teaching a phonics skill). As a result, many more programs require some practice, but do not earn credit toward the Reading Foundations standard for practice of any component.

Aspiring teachers need multiple opportunities to practice each component, yet nearly 30% of programs require no practice opportunities on any component.

Opportunities to practice for each component

Hover over a segment to learn more

Multiple opportunities to practice

Some opportunity to practice

No opportunities to practice

National - Multiple opportunities to practice

National - Some opportunity to practice

National - No opportunities to practice

With strong state policies, effective implementation, and accountability, states can improve the quality of teacher preparation in reading.

While individual preparation programs can improve the outcomes for their enrolled candidates, states hold the power to institute improvements to reading instruction and teacher preparation on a statewide scale. Several states have already taken this step, showing what is possible. Mississippi and Colorado stand out for high scores for their teacher prep programs and minimal existence of practices contrary to scientifically based reading instruction. Arkansas and Louisiana also have programs that, on average, show strong coverage of the five core components of scientifically based reading instruction.

Of the top 10 states based on the average number of reading components addressed, Arizona, Colorado, Mississippi, New Mexico, Utah and Virginia deserve praise for having one or less contrary practices on average across all reviewed programs in their state. In contrast, in two states (Connecticut and South Carolina), programs vary in their attention to the core components and also teach nearly three contrary practices on average.16

These strong results by Mississippi and Colorado should come as no surprise, given the investments and attention they have given in recent years to promoting scientifically based reading instruction, including developing robust and specific teacher preparation standards and accountability, requiring a strong reading licensure test addressing all five components, and offering supports for teacher preparation programs to make the transition to scientifically based reading preparation.

There are significant differences in the average performance of programs across states.

Comparison between average coverage of core components and average contrary practices taught by programs in each state
0.0 1.5 3.0

There are nine practices contrary to the science of reading that anlysts looked for and identified in programs, but the average number of contrary practices in programs in each state ranges from 0.3 to 2.7.

0
1
2
3
4
5
Thre-cueing systems

67 programs

Note: Nine states—Alaska, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wyoming—have fewer than five programs in the analysis and are therefore not included in the table above.

Programs provide little preparation in teaching reading to English learners, struggling readers, and speakers of English language varieties.

All educators need to be prepared to teach a range of students with diverse needs in learning to read. For the first time, NCTQ analyzed the extent to which programs prepare candidates to teach three groups of students: English language learners (students in the process of acquiring English and who have a first language other than English), struggling readers (students who experience academic difficulties in the area of reading, including students with dyslexia), and students who speak language varieties other than mainstream English, such as speakers of African American English (AAE). We looked at the programs' use of instructional time, objective measures of knowledge, background materials such as textbooks, and opportunities for aspiring teachers to practice. To deliver on the promise of an excellent and equitable education, teachers must be equipped to meet the differentiated needs of their students.

English Language Learners
English language learners are one of the fastest-growing populations of students in our schools, with over five million English language learners enrolled in public schools,17 an increase of 35% over the last two decades.18 Teacher preparation programs are not keeping pace with student demographic changes—69% of programs dedicate less than two instructional hours to teaching reading to English language learners, meaning most new teachers enter classrooms without knowledge and skills to teach English language learners to read. Furthermore, 88% of programs in the sample do not require any practice opportunities with this group of students, so most aspiring teachers never practice teaching English language learners to read before entering the classroom.

Struggling Readers
Over a third of fourth grade students perform below basic on national reading assessments, indicating that even after years of elementary instruction, they are struggling to learn to read.19 While many struggling readers suffer from poor reading instruction, it is commonly estimated that about 15%-20% of students have a language-based learning disability, which includes dyslexia, "a learning disability that impacts language processing including the skills required for skilled reading, spelling, and writing."20

Despite the prevalence of struggling readers, more than half of programs (57%) spend less than two hours of instructional time teaching candidates to support struggling readers, and 80% of programs do not require a practice opportunity focused on this group of students.

Speakers of Language Varieties Other Than Mainstream English
Students who are speakers of language varieties other than mainstream English have always been present in American classrooms, but most new teachers never receive any training on how to best serve these students in learning to read. Varieties of English are rule-governed languages spoken by communities connected by race, culture, and identity21—and the U.S. is host to many dialects of English, including African American English (AAE), Cajun English, and Appalachian English, among others.22 Despite this, few programs (10%) in the sample provide any instruction at all on how to teach students who speak varieties of English how to read. This appears to be a nascent area in teacher preparation, one that merits more attention from programs themselves and from those developing resources such as textbooks to support teacher preparation.

Program grades

As part of the review, programs earn a grade based on the number of components of scientifically based reading instruction they adequately cover, including dedicated instructional hours, objective measures of candidate knowledge, use of appropriate background materials, and opportunities to practice. Programs earning an A adequately cover all five components with at most limited instruction on contrary practices. Subsequently, NCTQ reduces programs by one letter grade for each component not adequately covered (so those adequately addressing four of five components earn a B) and also deducts one letter grade from programs that teach four or more contrary practices. To earn an A+, programs must adequately cover all five components, but meet a higher point threshold for each component, and teach no practices contrary to the science of reading.

These program scores should not be compared to prior editions of the NCTQ reading standard. The revised 2023 Reading Foundations standard has changed in several ways that affect scoring based on the results of 18 months of stakeholder engagement including an expert panel, an open comment period, and a technical advisory group. A detailed description of the scoring methodology, including the rubric used to evaluate each component, is available here.

While 42% of programs earned an A or B in 2023, far too many programs fail to ensure their aspiring elementary teachers are prepared to effectively teach reading.

Distribution of 2023 program grades
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While 702 programs provided material for review by either cooperating directly with NCTQ or publicly posting syllabi, 441 programs chose not to make their materials available for review. These programs, located in 44 states and the District of Columbia, prepare an estimated 16,000 elementary teachers each year, most of whom will go on to teach in public schools. For a list of programs that were not willing to provide information about their reading preparation, download the full report.
Recommendations

Actions for teacher preparation programs

1

Use the detailed feedback NCTQ provided in your program score to determine whether courses adequately teach all components, and where there are opportunities for growth.

  • Although all five components are important, we recommend paying especially close attention to whether your program provides in-depth instruction on phonemic awareness, the most commonly overlooked component.
  • Be sure to look at the quality across all sections of a course to determine if there is consistent quality or additional room for improvement. When multiple sections of a course are taught by different faculty members, NCTQ only reviews one section; it is important for programs to review for quality across all sections of a course.

2

Consider how to modify existing courses to include more scientifically based reading instruction.

  • More coursework is not always the answer. High-performing programs range in the number of courses they require, but all use high-quality background materials, sufficient instructional time (at least 34 direct instructional hours), aligned measures of knowledge, and opportunities for practice.
  • Even adjusting a few lecture topics and assignments to focus on core components of reading instruction could make a big difference for aspiring teachers' understanding of reading instruction. The strongest programs in our sample, like Western Colorado University (Undergraduate, CO) or Olivet Nazarene University (Undergraduate, IL), have anywhere from two to seven courses dedicated to reading, with some time devoted to other topics (e.g., children's literature or writing).

3

Ensure practice opportunities give candidates the chance to apply all components of effective reading instruction.

  • While many reading courses have field opportunities, candidates are not always required to practice specific elements of what they have learned, meaning they may never get the opportunity to give a fluency assessment or teach decoding strategies. Rather than requiring candidates to practice teaching a lesson without further parameters on the content of the lessons, be sure candidates have specific opportunities to frequently practice teaching or assessing each of the core components of reading.

4

Use high-quality, research-based background materials.

  • Textbooks provide an important resource to candidates while they are in their preparation program and serve as a reference during their years in the classroom. Ensuring these materials are of high quality provides teachers with reliable resources. Textbooks and other background materials vary widely in quality. As part of the revised standard, NCTQ examined all required instructional resources. Courses should use high-quality, research-based background materials such as those in NCTQ's database of Reading Instructional Materials, which includes a review of all background materials analyzed in the Teacher Prep Review 2023 sample. High-quality materials cover the components of reading in sufficient depth, do not contain content contrary to research-based practices, and use high-quality research support. Further, since some candidates may start their careers teaching in districts that still employ balanced literacy curricula, it is important to teach candidates about valid and reliable assessments, and to offer examples of scope and sequences for phonemic awareness and phonics.

5

Eliminate instruction on content contrary to research-based practices.

  • Work with instructors across all sections of a course (when the same course is taught by multiple instructors), so they do not teach practices that science has proven are not the best way to teach children how to read. For a comprehensive explanation of some contrary practices, see our Technical Report (pg. 65).

6

Provide support to build capacity across the entire preparation program to promote scientifically based reading instruction.

Actions for state leaders

1

Set specific, explicit, and comprehensive preparation standards.

  • Listing the five components is not enough; standards need to explicitly identify what candidates should learn (e.g., prep programs should teach phonemic awareness, why this area is important for children's reading development and attainment of the alphabetic principle, what common patterns are in the development of phonemic awareness, specific goals of instruction such as blending and segmentation, and how to assess students' phonemic awareness). The standards in Utah and Texas provide strong examples.

2

Hold programs accountable for implementation of scientifically based reading instruction.

  • Incorporate a specific evaluation of reading instruction in program renewal or reauthorization processes, and take action if programs are not aligned to the state's standards for scientifically based reading instruction.
  • Standards alone will not improve reading instruction. They must be explicit and coupled with implementation support (training, feedback, high-quality curricula), and accountability (data and evidence used to inform decisions about program approval) to see widespread results. See Colorado's detailed requirements for programs through its program renewal process.
  • Conduct site visits and include literacy experts. Often program approval or reauthorization processes focus on broad program operations. Focusing specifically on the teaching of reading will support the improvement of elementary teacher prep programs as well as early childhood and special education prep programs. Visit classrooms, talk to teachers and staff, and collect qualitative data to help inform approval decisions.
  • Make conditional approval—with clear timelines and identified areas for improvement—an option. States should consider in their regulations whether conditional approval is an option for the authorizing entity (either the department of education, state board, or higher education commission). While reading could be a weak area for a program, it may have other strengths. Allowing conditional approval, along with clear expectations and support, will bring along the desired change while permitting the program to operate.

3

Require a reading licensure test aligned with scientifically based reading instruction for any elementary teachers to earn licensure, and publish the pass rates.

  • Verify the state-required test is strong and measures candidates' knowledge of the core components of reading instruction.
  • Require all elementary teachers—as well as early childhood educators, special education teachers, and reading specialists who instruct PK-5 students—to demonstrate their knowledge of how to teach reading.
  • At a minimum, provide data to programs on first-attempt and best-attempt pass rates on reading licensure tests. This will provide feedback to programs on how candidates are doing, and allow programs to track and support improvement efforts.
  • To provide an understanding across the state, publish pass rate data on the licensure tests.

4

Deploy a comprehensive strategy to implement scientifically based reading instruction, and prioritize teacher prep.

  • Follow the lead of states like Colorado and Mississippi and take a comprehensive approach to policy and practice, with an emphasis on teacher preparation that impacts student learning in reading and includes approaches to support struggling readers, English learners, and speakers of language varieties other than mainstream English. In addition to holding prep programs accountable for reading instruction, states can build teacher prep capacity through various means, such as inviting teacher prep faculty to join statewide professional development, supporting programs with competitive funding to revise their programs, or creating communities of practice where programs can learn from other exemplary programs as to how they made the transition.
  • Some states, such as North Carolina, have invited external reviewers to inspect their teacher preparation programs (e.g., observe courses and interview faculty and teacher candidates) and report on their findings.

5

Use the bully pulpit and take action.

  • To send an important signal that reading instruction matters, state leaders such as governors, state education chiefs, state board members, and university system leaders should adopt their own platform-specific goals for increasing reading outcomes, set standards for the institutions they lead, and ask their organizations and staff to report on progress toward those goals.
  • NCTQ has observed that progress—both at the program and state levels—is often a result of courageous leaders who set clear expectations, measure progress, and promote accountability. In doing so, leaders help their states reach the goal that all students, and especially students who have been historically marginalized, have access to teachers with the knowledge and skills to be effective. When necessary, these leaders make difficult (and sometimes politically risky) choices to follow through on their commitments on behalf of the students and families they serve.

Actions for school districts

1

Be strategic in recruiting new teachers. To the extent possible, focus hiring efforts on teachers from preparation programs adequately teaching scientifically based reading instruction, or from stronger programs in your region.

  • Training teachers is expensive. Focusing on hiring from programs already providing a foundation in reading instruction will save your district money and will better support your students' literacy outcomes.
  • Hiring from stronger programs sends a signal to all programs that they need to provide instruction aligned with scientifically based reading research. Use data from the Teacher Prep Review to focus recruitment and hiring on programs with a strong track record.
  • Because graduate programs tend to provide weaker preparation on reading, be particularly attentive to evidence that teachers from graduate preparation programs have learned scientifically based reading instruction (e.g., consider their score on a relevant licensure test, check the quality of the graduate program's early reading instruction in the Teacher Prep Review, and ask a few questions about literacy instruction during the interview process).

2

Prioritize partnerships for field experiences with programs committed to teaching scientifically based reading instruction.

  • Student teaching is an excellent opportunity to hire strong candidates early. Bringing in student teachers from programs providing instruction in scientifically based reading provides an opportunity to hire from this pool early on, and it sends a message to other programs that they need to strengthen their reading instruction.
  • Match student teacher candidates to mentor teachers with a proven track record of effectiveness in teaching reading based on the science. Don't assign student teachers to teachers who would be poor models of teaching reading or use contrary practices in their instruction.

3

Provide professional development opportunities for teachers already in the classroom who were not prepared in scientifically based reading instruction practices.

  • While not exhaustive, some resources to consider include LETRS, Neuhaus Education Center, CORE Learning, and Essential Actions: A Handbook for Implementing WIDA's Framework for English Language Development Standards.

4

Review, select, and carefully implement high-quality reading curricula approved by your state or other external reviewers along with aligned, job-embedded, high-quality professional development to skillfully implement the curricula, and share your curriculum resources with teacher preparation partners.

Actions for advocates, teachers, and parents

Use your voice! Ask questions and advocate to ensure scientifically based reading instruction is used in local schools.

  • Learn more about scientifically based reading instruction—start with Science of Reading: Defining Guide and the podcast Sold a Story, or dive into resource-packed websites like Reading Rockets, Florida Center for Reading Research, and Colorín Colorado. Send letters to a university's board of trustees and your district's school board, or testify at public hearings advocating for professional learning and curricula aligned to scientifically based reading instruction.
  • Advocate for adoption—both at the district and state levels—of curricula (including core curricula, intervention programs, and supplemental materials) that provide systematic and explicit reading instruction to teach the five components of scientifically based reading instruction. If they exist, call for the removal of low-quality curricula from classrooms, such as those based in balanced literacy, leveled readers, or the use of three-cueing. Share these resources on scientifically based reading instruction with state legislators so they understand the importance of curricula as a help or a hindrance in quality reading instruction.
  • Partner with other advocates in your area to learn more about scientifically based reading instruction, find additional resources, and join community efforts to improve your local schools. Look for groups like Decoding Dyslexia or The Reading League.
  • Advocate for local schools to focus their hiring practices on teachers who are well prepared and committed to scientifically based reading instruction, especially local preparation programs earning a high grade in the Teacher Prep Review.
Promising Practices

Exemplar resources from high-performing programs

Programs performing the strongest on the Reading Foundations standard provided their aspiring teachers ample opportunities to learn about, practice, and demonstrate knowledge of all five reading components. Additionally, these programs provide no instruction in content contrary to scientifically based reading instruction.

The leaders of these programs shared what their programs do and how they built a high-quality approach to prepare their candidates to teach reading.

COLORADO
Fort Lewis College
Undergraduate

"Our literacy course sequence is designed to provide students with strong foundational knowledge of language and literacy. The focus on reading begins with a linguistic overview and a developmental perspective grounded in early language and literacy concepts."

Dr. Jenni Trujillo
Dean, School of Education

ALABAMA
Samford University
Graduate

"The redesign of [our graduate] courses ensures that Samford's teacher candidates receive essential training based on current research on how children learn to read, while pairing the training with structured, authentic practical applications in field experience."

Dr. Amy Hoagland
Assistant Dean, Orlean Beeson School of Education

LOUISIANA
Southern University and A&M College
Undergraduate

"Literacy is at the center of our methods courses, and we work with our candidates and partner schools to ensure that what we do aligns with evidence-based and culturally relevant practices that contribute to equitable educational experiences for the children of our communities."

Dr. Erin Scott-Stewart
Assistant Professor, School of Education

UTAH
Southern Utah University
Undergraduate

"SUU candidates attend practicums in local elementary schools where Southern Utah provides free inservice training for participating teachers on topics like effective phonemic awareness and phonics instruction."

Dr. Tony Pellegrini
Professor & Teacher Education Department Chair

Dr. Stacy Hurst
Lecturer, Teacher Education

TEXAS
Texas A&M University - Texarkana
Undergraduate

"I was hired 4 years ago to align all reading courses to the Science of Teaching Reading. Since that time, I have worked tirelessly to make sure that every competency is fully covered and reinforced throughout the coursework at a pace and with enough practice that allows students to truly gain understanding in a way that will affect their teaching."

Dr. C. Kelly Cordray
Chair and Assistant Professor in the Department of Teaching and Professional Programs in Education

VIRGINIA
University of Virginia
Graduate

"In addition to the reading methods coursework, teacher candidates complete a clinical experience course where they work one-to-one with an elementary grade student using an evidence-based reading intervention program, providing them the opportunity to engage with scientifically aligned reading instruction and practices."

Dr. Emily Solari
Edmund H. Henderson Professor of Education, School of Education and Human Development

Dr. Latisha Hayes
Associate Professor, School of Education and Human Development

A+ Programs

Alabama
Alabama A&M University
A+ Graduate
Alabama
Samford University
A+ Undergraduate
Alabama
Samford University
A+ Graduate
Arkansas
University of Arkansas at Monticello
A+ Undergraduate
California
University of La Verne
A+ Graduate
Colorado
Fort Lewis College
A+ Undergraduate
Colorado
University of Colorado Boulder
A+ Undergraduate
Colorado
University of Colorado Denver
A+ Undergraduate
How We Scored

Analysis for the Reading Foundations standard began by determining the programs to be included. Both undergraduate and graduate (or post-baccalaureate) elementary teacher preparation programs that lead to initial licensure at all public institutions and private institutions that have an annual production of at least 10 elementary teachers were eligible for inclusion. This resulted in a universe of 1,147 programs housed within 960 institutions that qualified for analysis.23 Because not all programs provided sufficient documentation to be rated, the final sample includes 702 programs housed in 580 institutions of higher education, and is inclusive of programs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Once the sample was determined, a team of analysts used course catalogs to identify the required coursework for each elementary program. Course titles and descriptions were used to identify all courses that addressed reading instruction. Next, NCTQ sent a request for course material to each program in the universe of programs. Programs were asked to identify any missing courses to ensure that no reading courses were excluded. The majority of syllabi analyzed were from fall 2018 to fall 2022, although some programs submitted materials from spring 2023 in response to the preliminary analysis. In total, collecting evidence, analyzing materials, and conducting the preliminary review process with all programs took 12 months to complete.

When material was received, course-level analysis relied on two sources of data:

  • Syllabi for required courses that address reading instruction, including ancillary materials such as lecture slides or assignment descriptions.

  • Background materials, such as textbooks or articles, for required courses that address reading instruction.

Following extensive training across several months, a separate team of expert reading analysts evaluated reading syllabi and background materials 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 master's degree in the field of education.

Expert analysts reviewed 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.

Core components

Phonemic awareness

The ability to focus on and manipulate the individual phonemes in 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 and thinking about all of this information.

Supporting a range of learners

Struggling readers

This group includes students who are falling behind and having academic difficulties in the area of reading; students at-risk of reading failure if they do not receive appropriate and effective instruction and intervention; and students with diagnosed or undiagnosed dyslexia, word reading difficulties, or language comprehension difficulties.

English language learners

This group includes students who are in the process of acquiring English and who have a first language other than English.

Students who speak language varieties other than mainstream English

This group includes students who speak variations of English including African American English (AAE), Cajun English, and Appalachian English, among others. Often these variations are referred to as dialects.

Course analysis for each component and for each student group relied on 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 (assignments or written, graded assessments).

  • Requirements for practice/application of instruction or assessment on individual components.

  • Requirements for background materials (e.g., textbooks, videos, articles), explored further below.

After expert analysts reviewed course syllabi for the first three instructional approaches—instructional hours, objective measures of knowledge, and practice opportunities—13% of programs were then randomly selected for evaluation by a second analyst to assess the frequency of scoring variances.

Another team of expert analysts separately analyzed the fourth instructional approach, required background materials. These materials were identified using the required reading section of course syllabi (or university bookstore information, in instances where course material is absent from syllabi). Reviewers analyzed each material for its coverage of the science of reading and attention to supporting a range of learners. The process of reviewing a book followed these steps:

  • The reviewer determines if the text is "comprehensive" (covers all five of the components), "specialized" (designed to cover only a subset of components), or "synopsis" (brief or introductory documents describing the components without sufficient depth to be used alone).

  • The reviewer determines if the content presents each component in light of the science, absent of unproven practice, and advances a depth of knowledge about not only how students learn to read, but also 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.

Each of the five core components (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension) was assessed separately for all four instructional approaches within each course, earning up to three points per approach, or 12 points per component.

Example of scoring: Phonemic awareness
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

(4 hours ÷ 7 hours x 3 points)

1.7

Objective Measures of Knowledge

One graded written assignment

2

Practice/Application

One practice session

2

Background Materials (averaged within and then across courses)

One textbook, two supplementary materials: all deemed acceptable

3

Total points earned for this component

8.7

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

Content contrary to research-based practices
During the analysis of course materials, NCTQ expert analysts also determined whether there was 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, its letter grade was reduced by one grade.

  • 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 published program scores, programs received their scores with detailed feedback on the findings from each course and had at least two 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 looked 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 received detailed feedback on the evidence of their attention to supporting a range of learners.

For more information on the methodology for the Reading Foundations standard, see the full Reading Foundations: Technical Report.

The Reading Foundations standard—which was co-constructed with leading reading experts, psychometricians, and teacher preparation program faculty—reflects current research on scientifically based reading instruction and the knowledge and skills needed by teachers.

For each program, NCTQ awards points to each of the five core components (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension) based on the sum of the individual course findings. Programs can earn up to three points for each of the four instructional approaches within each component, for a total of 12 possible points. Programs are deemed to have provided adequate coverage of a component when they obtain at least eight of the 12 points. Grades are based on the number of components a program adequately addresses. During the analysis of course materials, NCTQ expert analysts also determined whether there was evidence that a program teaches any of nine identified practices contrary to the science of reading. If a program teaches four or more contrary practices, its letter grade was reduced by one grade.

Grading rules

Program grade

Grading rule: Receive eight or more points for…

A+

Programs earn an A, meet a higher point threshold for each component (an average of 10 points across components), and teach no practices contrary to the science of reading.

A

All five of the five core components of scientifically based reading instruction, and do not teach more than three practices contrary to the science of reading.

B

Four of the five core components of scientifically based reading instruction OR all five core components but teach four or more practices contrary to the science of reading.

C

Three of the five core components of scientifically based reading instruction OR four core components but teach four or more practices contrary to the science of reading.

D

Two of the five core components of scientifically based reading instruction OR three core components but teach four or more practices contrary to the science of reading.

F

One or none of the five core components of scientifically based reading instruction OR two core components but teach four or more practices contrary to the science of reading.

Points for coverage of core components for each instructional approach
Points for coverage of core components for each instructional approach

Points Possible

Instructional Approach

0

1

2

3

Instructional Hours

Number of hours summed across courses divided by the instructional hours target times three points (capped at three points).

Background Materials

Unacceptable materials earn a 0; acceptable materials earn a 3. All materials on a component are averaged within a course and then across courses.

Objective Measures of Knowledge

No tests/quizzes AND no graded written assignments (summed across courses).

Part of one graded written assignment (summed across courses).

One graded written assignment (summed across courses).

At least one test/quiz OR more than one graded written assignment (summed across courses).

Practice/Application

No practice opportunities (summed across courses).

Less than one practice opportunity (summed across courses).

Only one full practice opportunity (summed across courses).

More than one practice opportunity (summed across courses).

Instructional hours targets for each core component

Component

Target

Phonemic Awareness

7 hours

Phonics

8 hours

Fluency

4 hours

Vocabulary

6 hours

Comprehension

9 hours

Supporting a range of learners

Part two of the standard evaluates whether programs provide instruction in how to support a range of learners: struggling readers, English language learners, and students who speak language varieties other than mainstream English. Part two is not factored into a program's grade.

Points for coverage of supporting a range of learners for each instructional approach
(UNGRADED)

Points for coverage of supporting a range of learners for each instructional approach
(UNGRADED)

Points Possible

Instructional Approach

0

1

2

Instructional Hours

Point value is equal to the sum of instructional hours across courses, capped at 2. (Note: This means programs with a score of 2 have at least 2 instructional hours on how to teach or assess the learner group.)

Background Materials

Average quality of background materials. Unacceptable materials earn a 0; acceptable materials earn a 2. All materials on a learner group are averaged within a course and then averaged across courses.

Objective Measures of Knowledge

No tests/quizzes AND no graded written assignments (summed across courses).

Part of one graded written assignment (summed across courses).

At least one test/quiz OR at least one graded written assignment (summed across courses).

Practice/Application

No practice/application sessions (summed across courses).

Part of one practice/application session (summed across courses).

One full practice session (summed across courses).

What is scientifically based reading instruction?

Scientifically based reading instruction (SBRI) is grounded in the "science of reading" and in the research on how students learn to read. SBRI 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 subsequent research, confirming and extending the findings 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.

Does knowledge of reading instruction matter for elementary teachers?

Literacy is one of the human rights issues of our time. Students who learn to read in the elementary grades are more likely to finish high school24 and have far greater educational and career opportunities ahead of them. There is settled science about how to effectively teach reading so that nearly every child can read. Yet as of 2019, only 1 in 3 fourth graders reads proficiently,25 and the literacy rates for 9 year olds have dropped precipitously in the last few years.26 These literacy challenges persist into adulthood.27 Systematic failure to teach reading disproportionately harms students of color: Less than a quarter of Hispanic students and a fifth of Black fourth grade students read proficiently because we have not given them the opportunity to learn.28 In the wake of the pandemic, children's reading challenges have grown considerably.29

When teachers know and use scientifically based reading instruction, the rate of reading failure among children can be cut from three in ten children to less than one in ten.30

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Endnotes
  1. This figure represents 37% of the fourth grade students in 2021 (based on U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics). (2022). Table 203.10. Enrollment in public elementary and secondary schools, by level and grade: Selected years, fall 1980 through fall 2030. Digest of Education Statistics. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d22/tables/dt22_203.10.asp?current=yes

  2. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). (2022). National Achievement-Level Results. https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/reading/nation/achievement/?grade=4

  3. Hernandez, D. J. (2012). Double jeopardy: How third-grade reading skills and poverty influence high school graduation. Annie E. Casey Foundation. Retrieved March 16, 2023 from https://assets.aecf.org/m/resourcedoc/AECF-DoubleJeopardy-2012-Full.pdf

  4. Tamborini, C. R., Kim, C., & Sakamoto, A. (2015). Education and lifetime earnings in the United States. Demography, 52(4), 1383-1407.

  5. Chapman, C., Laird, J., Ifill, N., & Kewal Ramani, A. (2011). Trends in High School Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States: 1972-2009. Compendium Report. NCES 2012-006. National Center for Education Statistics. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/dropout/intro.asp#r4

  6. Chapman, C., Laird, J., Ifill, N., & Kewal Ramani, A. (2011); Harlow, C. W. (2003). Education and Correctional Populations. Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report. https://bjs.ojp.gov/content/pub/pdf/ecp.pdf

  7. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). (2022).

  8. Torgesen describes this finding in Torgesen, 2004. Specifically, the analyses he describes were based on the proportion of students reaching the "low average level" of word reading skills by second grade. While word reading is not the same as reading comprehension, it is a necessary precursor to comprehension, and measures of word reading fluency (and gains in that fluency) are predictive of broader student reading performance (Smith, J. L. M., Cummings, K. D., Nese, J. F., Alonzo, J., Fien, H., & Baker, S. K. (2014). The relation of word reading fluency initial level and gains with reading outcomes. School Psychology Review, 43(1), 30-40.). For more on studies finding that 90% or more of students can read with proper instruction, see: Torgesen, J. K. (2004). Preventing early reading failure. American Educator, 28(3), 6-9; Torgesen, J. K. (1998). Catch them before they fall: Identification and assessment to prevent reading failure in young children. American Educator, 22(1-2), 32-39. www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/torgesen.pdf; Lyon, G. R. (1998). Overview of reading and literacy initiatives (Report to Committee on Labor and Human Resources, U.S. Senate). Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institute of Health. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED444128.pdf; Vellutino, F. R., Fletcher, J. M., Snowling, M. J., & Scanlon, D. M. (2004). Specific reading disability (dyslexia): What have we learned in the past four decades? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 45(1), 2-40. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1046/j.0021-9630.2003.00305x; Al Otaiba, S., & Fuchs, D. (2006). Who are the young children for whom best practices in reading are ineffective? An experimental and longitudinal study. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 39(5), 414-431.

  9. EdWeek Research Center. (2020). Early Reading Instruction: Results of a National Survey of K-2 and Elementary Special Education Teachers and Postsecondary Instructors. Washington, DC. https://epe.brightspotcdn.com/1b/80/706eba6246599174b0199ac1f3b5/ed-week-reading-instruction-survey-report-final-1.24.20.pdf

  10. See, for example, Nicholson, T. (1991). Do children read words better in context or in lists? A classic study revisited. Journal of Educational Psychology, 83(4), 444.

  11. In addition to early reading, NCTQ examines six other aspects of programs' preparation of new elementary teachers: admissions standards including academic aptitude, preparation in mathematics, alignment of content, coursework with elementary curricula, training in research-based classroom management strategies, the quality of the clinical (student teaching) experience, and whether teacher preparation programs are adequately contributing to the racial diversification of the teacher workforce.

  12. Reading Rockets. (2023). Phonological and Phonemic Awareness. WETA Public Broadcasting. https://www.readingrockets.org/teaching/reading-basics/phonemic

  13. In 2020, the Teacher Prep Review: Program Performance in Early Reading Instruction found phonemic awareness was the least addressed component from 2013 to 2020 (51% in 2020, 43% in 2018, and 35% in 2013).

  14. Two hundred and thirty-nine educators responded to the Open Comment Survey (69% worked in teacher preparation programs, 8% worked in state education agencies, 7% worked as teachers or other positions in school districts, and 6% worked as educational researchers or faculty not working directly in teacher preparation).

  15. Hindman, A. H., Morrison, F. J., Connor, C. M., & Connor, J. A. (2020). Bringing the science of reading to preservice elementary teachers: Tools that bridge research and practice. Reading Research Quarterly, 55, S197-S206; Hudson, A. K., Moore, K. A., Han, B., Wee Koh, P., Binks-Cantrell, E., & Joshi, R.M. (2021). Elementary teachers' knowledge of foundational literacy skills: A critical piece of the puzzle in the science of reading. Reading Research Quarterly, 56, S287-S315.

  16. This list of states only includes states with at least five teacher preparation programs within this sample.

  17. National Center for Education Statistics. (2022). English Learners in Public Schools. Condition of Education. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator/cgf

  18. U.S. Department of Education, Office of English Language Acquisition. (2022). English Learners: Demographic Trends. https://ncela.ed.gov/sites/default/files/2022-09/ELDemographics_20220805_508.pdf

  19. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). (2022).

  20. Dyslexia Center of Utah. (2023). Dyslexia Identification. https://www.dyslexiacenterofutah.org/DyslexiaIdentification

  21. Washington, J., & Seidenberg, M. (2021). Teaching reading to African American children. https://www.aft.org/ae/summer2021/washington_seidenberg

  22. Wolfram, W., & Schilling-Estes, N. (2016). Dialects in the United States: Past, present, and future. In American English: Dialects and Variation (pp. 97-121), Wiley-Blackwell.

  23. Ten programs are not included in the sample because of changes in program structure, limitations in the data they provided, or late submissions of materials (for the latter group, scores will be posted at a later date).

  24. Hernandez, D. J. (2011).

  25. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). (2022).

  26. This is based on the 2022 results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress's long-term trend data, which does not report achievement levels. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2020 and 2022 Long-Term Trend (LTT) Reading and Mathematics Assessments. Retrieved September 9, 2022 from https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/highlights/ltt/2022/

  27. NCER & NCSER. (2020). Research on adult literacy: A history of investment in American adults. Inside IES Research. https://ies.ed.gov/blogs/research/post/research-on-adult-literacy-a-history-of-investment-in-american-adults

  28. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). (2022).

  29. Kuhfeld, M., Lewis, K., & Peltier, T. (2022). Reading achievement declines during the COVID-19 pandemic: Evidence from 5 million U.S. students in grades 3-8. Reading and Writing, 1-17; Kuhfeld, M., Soland, J., & Lewis, K. (2022). The COVID-19 school year: Learning and recovery across 2020-2021. AERA Open. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/23328584221099306; Dorn, E., Hancock, B., Sarakatsannis, J., & Viruleg, E. (2021). COVID-19 and education: An emerging K-shaped recovery. McKinsey & Company. Retrieved March 3, 2022 from https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/education/our-insights/covid-19-and-education-an-emerging-k-shaped-recovery; Halloran, C., Jack, R., Okun, J. C., & Oster, E. (2021). Pandemic schooling mode and student test scores: Evidence from U.S. states (No. w29497). National Bureau of Economic Research. https://www.nber.org/papers/w29497; U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2020 and 2022 Long-Term Trend (LTT) Reading and Mathematics Assessments. Retrieved September 9, 2022 from https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/highlights/ltt/2022/

  30. Torgesen, J. K. (2004); Torgesen, J. K. (1998); Lyon, G. R. (1998); Vellutino, F. R., Fletcher, J. M., Snowling, M. J., & Scanlon, D. M. (2004).

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