Teacher Prep Review

Early Reading

Reading proficiency underpins all learning. Preservice preparation that systematically and explicitly addresses the five essential components of effective reading instruction ensures that teachers will enter the classroom ready to teach children how to read.

Suggested citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2020). Teacher Prep Review: Early Reading. Teacher Prep Review. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/review/standardDetails/Early-Reading

Reading Essentials

More than a third of American children cannot read by the 4th grade. The National Institutes of Health has demonstrated that this unacceptable rate of failure, which disproportionately harms students of color, can be reduced to less than 1 in 10 when teachers utilize the five essential components of effective reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension. This standard provides feedback on the degree to which teacher prep programs provide instruction and practice on those approaches.

Top performing programs on this standard provide the following for each of the five essential components of reading:
  • Explicit instruction on each component
  • Support for instruction with high-quality textbooks that accurately detail established principles of scientifically based reading practices
  • Opportunities for teacher candidates to demonstrate mastery through in-class assignments, tests, and instructional practice

of programs provide
sufficient early reading

key findings on Early Reading

  • Over 50 percent of traditional programs provide adequate instruction in at least four of the five areas of scientifically-based reading compared to only 35 percent in 2013.
  • Undergraduate programs are nearly twice as likely to teach scientifically-based instructional methods as graduate programs.
  • Narrowly half (52 percent) of programs provide instruction in phonemic awareness, the first skill teachers need to teach before children can learn to read.
  • Teacher prep programs in Mississippi collectively performed the highest, followed closely by Utah.

What Grade Do Traditional Elementary Programs Receive on Early Reading?

All Programs
Figure details

This data does not include alternative certification programs.
Percentages may not sum to 100 due to rounding.

Number of programs by grade:

State A B C D F Program Count
Alabama 5 5 4 4 1 19
Alaska 0 0 0 0 0 0
Arizona 2 2 0 1 2 7
Arkansas 10 1 1 0 1 13
California 20 6 10 15 13 64
Colorado 6 0 3 6 1 16
Connecticut 3 1 0 5 4 13
Delaware 2 2 0 1 0 5
District of Columbia 1 3 1 0 1 6
Florida 19 5 3 2 0 29
Georgia 6 9 1 5 10 31
Hawaii 0 3 1 0 2 6
Idaho 4 2 0 0 1 7
Illinois 5 13 7 15 4 44
Indiana 8 8 3 4 6 29
Iowa 3 8 1 5 4 21
Kansas 5 4 2 4 1 16
Kentucky 5 8 0 5 4 22
Louisiana 9 4 0 1 1 15
Maine 0 1 1 3 3 8
Maryland 6 8 0 3 3 20
Massachusetts 8 4 4 7 7 30
Michigan 3 8 2 3 8 24
Minnesota 6 8 1 5 1 21
Mississippi 8 4 0 0 0 12
Missouri 2 10 2 12 3 29
Montana 4 1 1 1 1 8
Nebraska 3 5 1 1 3 13
Nevada 2 0 0 3 1 6
New Hampshire 3 2 1 0 0 6
New Jersey 2 0 4 4 10 20
New Mexico 1 3 1 3 0 8
New York 9 16 5 23 23 76
North Carolina 16 6 5 4 3 34
North Dakota 0 3 1 4 0 8
Ohio 14 19 4 7 2 46
Oklahoma 8 5 1 1 0 15
Oregon 1 1 0 5 7 14
Pennsylvania 16 23 8 15 4 66
Rhode Island 0 1 1 1 0 3
South Carolina 4 2 5 4 5 20
South Dakota 2 4 1 1 1 9
Tennessee 9 8 2 7 6 32
Texas 16 15 10 5 11 57
Utah 6 3 0 1 0 10
Vermont 1 2 0 0 1 4
Virginia 6 9 0 6 5 26
Washington 2 3 2 8 5 20
West Virginia 5 2 1 1 3 12
Wisconsin 8 8 1 5 1 23
Wyoming 1 1 0 0 0 2

How Frequently Do Traditional Programs Address Each Component?

(PA = Phonemic Awareness, Ph = Phonics, Fl = Fluency, Vo = Vocab, Co = Comprehension)
All Programs
Figure details

This data does not include alternative certification programs.
Percentages may not sum to 100 due to rounding.

Number of programs passing:

State PA Ph Fl Vo Co Prog Cnt
Alabama 11 13 12 13 15 19
Alaska 0 0 0 0 0 0
Arizona 4 4 4 2 5 7
Arkansas 11 12 12 11 12 13
California 34 40 28 38 48 64
Colorado 6 14 7 11 14 16
Connecticut 4 7 6 3 7 13
Delaware 4 4 3 4 4 5
District of Columbia 1 5 4 5 5 6
Florida 23 26 26 27 29 29
Georgia 14 17 15 19 21 31
Hawaii 3 3 3 3 4 6
Idaho 6 6 6 6 6 7
Illinois 14 28 21 30 37 44
Indiana 18 22 15 20 22 29
Iowa 9 15 12 14 15 21
Kansas 8 10 10 11 12 16
Kentucky 9 14 13 15 17 22
Louisiana 13 13 12 14 14 15
Maine 0 3 2 3 6 8
Maryland 12 14 14 15 17 20
Massachusetts 13 17 15 23 21 30
Michigan 7 14 12 13 20 24
Minnesota 14 17 14 17 17 21
Mississippi 12 12 11 12 12 12
Missouri 11 16 10 17 23 29
Montana 4 6 6 6 6 8
Nebraska 5 10 8 10 10 13
Nevada 5 5 2 2 3 6
New Hampshire 4 6 5 5 6 6
New Jersey 2 5 3 8 13 20
New Mexico 4 6 4 4 7 8
New York 28 32 22 38 44 76
North Carolina 24 29 21 27 27 34
North Dakota 3 7 2 5 6 8
Ohio 34 41 28 34 37 46
Oklahoma 12 13 12 11 13 15
Oregon 1 3 3 4 7 14
Pennsylvania 40 49 38 53 55 66
Rhode Island 3 3 0 2 1 3
South Carolina 8 11 8 13 13 20
South Dakota 5 7 7 7 7 9
Tennessee 15 20 17 21 27 32
Texas 34 42 32 40 41 57
Utah 8 10 9 9 9 10
Vermont 3 3 2 3 3 4
Virginia 13 18 15 16 22 26
Washington 6 11 5 7 15 20
West Virginia 6 9 7 8 12 12
Wisconsin 13 20 16 16 19 23
Wyoming 1 2 2 2 2 2
Updated: March 2020

learn more

Watch the short animated video above to learn about the NCTQ methodology for the Early Reading standard
or dig deeper into the methodology and research below.

Promising practices

Exemplar Resources 
We asked high-performing universities to provide exemplary syllabi that showcase their commitment to providing instruction on all five components of scientifically based reading instruction. 

ID - Lewis-Clark State College - Overview, RE/SE 340, RE/SE 342
NC - Lenoir-Rhyne University - OverviewEDU 312EDU 322EDU 328L
WV - Marshall University - OverviewCI 343CI 446

Additionally, the following are high-quality resources for designing evidence-based teacher preparation. 
CEEDAR Center -  RecommendationsModule

Exemplary traditional undergraduate programs

Eighteen undergraduate elementary programs earn "A+" designations because their coursework includes, for each component of reading instruction, at least two class meetings with a primary focus on the component, at least one opportunity to demonstrate knowledge (test, writing assignments, or instructional experience), and the exclusive use of textbooks that accurately present the science of reading.

Programs in italics also appeared on this list in the previous edition of the Teacher Prep Review.
    AR - Arkansas Tech University
    FL - Florida International University
    FL - University of Florida
    ID - Lewis-Clark State College
    LA - Nicholls State University
    MA - Gordon College
    MS - Delta State University
    MS - University of Mississippi
    NC - Lenoir-Rhyne University
    OH - Marrietta College
    OH - Mount St. Joseph University 
    OH - University of Akron
    TN - East Tennessee State University
    TX - East Texas Baptist University
    UT - Dixie State University
    UT - Utah State University
    WI - Maranatha Baptist University
    WV - Marshall University

Consistently high-performing undergraduate programs

Thirty-two undergraduate programs have earned an A under the Early Reading standard in each edition of the Teacher Prep Review.

    AR - Southern Arkansas University
    AR - University of Arkansas at Monticello
    CA - California State University - Bakersfield
    CO - Colorado State University - Pueblo
    CT - Eastern Connecticut State University
    DE - University of Delaware
    FL - Florida State University
    FL - Northwest Florida State College
    GA -University of West Georgia
    LA - Grambling State University
    LA - Northwestern State University of Louisiana
    MA - Gordon College
    MS - Delta State University
    MS - Mississippi University for Women
    MS - University of Mississippi
    MS - William Carey University
    NC - University of North Carolina at Charlotte
    NE - Peru State College
    NY - Keuka College
    OH -University of Dayton
    OK - Langston University
    OK - Oklahoma Panhandle State University
    OK - Oklahoma State University
    PA - Neumann University
    TX - Texas A&M University
    TX - University of Texas at El Paso
    UT -Dixie State University
    VA - Longwood University
    VA - Norfolk State University
    VA - Regent University
    WV - Concord University
    WV - Marshall University

    Consistently high-performing traditional graduate programs

    Six graduate programs have earned an A under the Early Reading standard in each edition of the Teacher Prep Review.

    CA - California State University - Bakersfield
    CA - California State University - Dominguez Hills
    LA - University of New Orleans
    NC - University of North Carolina at Charlotte
    PA - Cedar Crest College
    WA - University of Washington - Tacoma
Exemplary nontraditional programs

One nontraditional program has earned an A under the Early Reading standard in this edition of the Teacher Prep Review
    CA - Alder Graduate School of Education: California Teacher Residency Program


1. Programs have increased their coverage of all aspects of the science of reading, a trend that has persisted through each edition of the Teacher Prep Review.

Compared to the first Teacher Prep Review, at least 10 percent more programs now provide adequate instruction in each of the five components of scientifically-based reading. However, phonemic awareness, the first skill children must master if they are to become successful readers [1], remains the least likely to be taught in a program's coursework. Barely half of programs (52 percent) cover it adequately. Teachers are not any more likely to learn the importance of fluency (the ability to read without effort), with only 54 percent of programs providing adequate coverage of that component.

2. In its approach to reading preparation, the field of teacher education is at an inflection point, with momentum favoring the science of reading.

For the first time, more than half of all traditional programs earn an A or a B by providing adequate instruction for at least four of the five components of reading instruction. This represents a six-point increase since the 2016 edition and a 16-point increase over the 2013 edition.

3. The science of reading now prevails in undergraduate programs, with a clear majority now earning an A or B. However, graduate programs[2] are stagnant.

Undergraduate programs have improved their coverage of scientifically-based reading instruction since NCTQ first began to examine them, with 57 percent now earning an A or B. This steady growth represents a 10-point improvement when compared to 2016 and an 18-point increase over the 2013 Teacher Prep Review.

Graduate programs improved slightly from 2013 to 2016, but have since stagnated. While a greater percentage of graduate programs earn an A in 2020, the percentage of programs earning the top two grades is unchanged from 2016. It is important to note that this is due in part to graduate programs that are appearing in the Teacher Prep Review for the first time, which on average score below programs that have appeared in previous editions.

When looking at coverage of the five components, the differences between undergraduate and graduate programs is pronounced. On average, there is a 20-point difference in the percentage of programs addressing each component.

Why the stark difference between undergraduate and graduate ratings? Two factors would seem to provide plausible explanations, but neither presents a clear answer. It is the case that graduate programs dedicate only two courses on average to reading instruction, compared to three courses on average by undergraduate programs. However, when two-course graduate programs are compared to two-course undergraduate programs, a meaningful difference in scores still persists (with undergraduate programs covering an average of three reading components, compared to just two for their graduate counterparts). It is also true that undergraduate and graduate reading courses are frequently taught by different faculty. However, this fact does not fully explain how undergraduate programs adequately cover an average of about one additional component consistently more than their graduate counterparts on the same campus.

The different scores earned by programs operating on the same campus speak to a broader issue NCTQ reported on in 2015, finding little commonality on a range of factors, including selectivity in admission, coursework choices, and significantly different approaches taken by individual professors on the same topic. [3]

4. There is substantial variation in adherence to reading science depending upon the state.

The 2019 data from the Nation's Report Card, known as NAEP (the National Assessment of Education Progress), found just one state with significantly improved fourth grade reading scores: Mississippi. The state's attention to teacher preparation in reading, alongside its investment in additional supports, such as literacy coaches, has been key to its success. In line with this collective commitment, for the second consecutive edition of the Teacher Prep Review, Mississippi programs earn the highest aggregate grade with nearly all 12 programs reviewed covering the five components.

5. By their very design, non-traditional (alternate route) programs are largely unable to prepare teachers to enter the classroom ready to teach reading.

In addition to undergraduate and graduate programs, NCTQ evaluated 58 non-traditional programs in early reading. The analysis of non-traditional programs only considers the coursework that is required before candidates become teachers of record, under the operating principle that teachers need to have this knowledge from the start. These programs can also earn a passing score if their candidates have to pass a strong licensing test specific to reading, prior to entering the classroom as the teacher of record.

The vast majority of non-traditional programs fail to provide adequate reading instruction or a passing score on a strong, reading-specific licensing test prior to their candidates becoming teachers of record. While many of these programs provide coursework in literacy, timing is a problem with their teachers already in classrooms.

6. The use of textbooks that reflect the science of reading is increasing.

Among the 725 textbooks required by programs reviewed in this edition, 40 percent are inadequate for the purposes of teaching the science of reading. Many texts still hold onto unproven practices, including references to authentic running record, and strategies for word solving. Some still include long-discredited three cuing systems for decoding, or promote the use of 'cloze reading' to teach students to guess words that would fit. [4]

While the number of textbooks used in reading courses remains exceptionally high (still seven times higher than the number used to teach elementary mathematics), there has been a significant decrease in the number of texts used by the full sample of programs, 130 fewer texts since the last Teacher Prep Review. The decrease could well be a healthy sign that teacher education may be achieving more consensus for the preparation of teachers in reading.

    [1] Shaywitz, B. & Shaywitz, S.(1997). The Yale Center for the Study of Learning and Attention: Longitudinal and Neurobiological Studies.
    [2] Graduate programs are inclusive of both master's degree and post-baccalaureate programs not leading to a master's degree.
    [4] A cloze passage presents sentences in which words are omitted and students are taught to guess a word that would fit. This ubiquitous practice is in direct conflict with how the brain actually interprets print.

How we graded

Evaluation relies on two sources of data:
  • Syllabi for all required courses within the program that address literacy instruction
  • All required textbooks for each required literacy course

Methodology in Brief

A team of analysts use course catalogs to determine the required coursework for each elementary program we are evaluating. Analysts then read course titles and descriptions to pinpoint courses that address reading instruction. Textbook information is gathered through syllabi and university bookstores.

A separate team of expert reading analysts -- all professors and practitioners with advanced degrees and deep knowledge of how children learn to read -- evaluate reading syllabi and textbooks using a detailed scoring protocol.

Fifteen percent of syllabi are randomly selected for a second evaluation to assess scoring variances. Each course is analyzed for its coverage of each of the five components of early reading instruction, as identified by the National Reading Panel (2000): phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension. Course analysis focuses on three main elements:
  • Use of course time to address each component, as specified by the lecture schedule.
  • Whether students are required to demonstrate knowledge of individual components through assessments, assignments, or instructional practice
  • If the assigned text or texts accurately present the components of reading instruction. Ratings of reviewed reading textbooks are provided here.

Reviewers analyze every required textbook for its coverage of the science of reading. The process of reviewing a book follows these steps:

  1. The reviewer ascertains if the text can be used either as a ‘comprehensive’ text (covering all five of the components as well as analyzing how the text approaches assessment and strategies for struggling readers), or if the text is designed only to teach one or a combination of the components, but not all ('specialized').
  2. The reviewer determines if the content defines and presents each component in light of the science, shedding old unproven practice and advancing a depth of knowledge not only about how students learn to read, but specifically how to teach students to read -- not just guide, encourage, or support.
  3. References are perused for primary sources, researchers, and trusted peer-reviewed journals that present the consensus around the science of reading.
Each of the five component is assessed separately within each course. Points awarded for use of course time, demonstration of knowledge, and text coverage are combined to create five separate component scores (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension) for each course. If a program includes multiple reading courses, the program score for each component is determined by the highest course score for that component. The five program-level component scores are used to determine the overall grade.

Scoring with less information

Due to the critical importance of reading instruction, NCTQ developed a means of evaluating elementary programs on this standard in cases where course details are missing from submitted material or where we could not obtain all reading syllabi.

This process relies on two key sources of data:
  • The syllabus for at least one course focused on foundational literacy. The syllabi for peripheral courses that may touch on literacy instruction, but are not core foundational literacy courses, are never substituted.
  • The assigned textbooks for all required literacy coursework. Where this information cannot be sourced from a syllabus, we identify the required textbooks using the institution's bookstore.

If we cannot obtain both pieces of information, the program is not scored.

Non-traditional programs

Our analysis of non-traditional programs only considers the coursework that is required before candidates become teachers of record. Reading instruction is simply too important for teachers to be learning while on the job. To account for the limited time-frame to complete such coursework, we additionally consider the requirement of a passing score on a reading-specific licensing test prior to entering the classroom.

How we rate textbooks

NCTQ regularly convenes reading experts -- many of whom are researchers, faculty, and educators -- to conduct a thorough review of every textbook used to teach aspiring teachers how to teach reading. These experts examine how well these textbooks adhere to the science of reading, which is rooted in 60+ years of research on what makes for the most effective reading instruction. Specifically, the experts evaluate how well each textbook covers the five critical components of reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

Three Categories
College-level texts used to prepare teachers to teach reading are grouped into three categories according to their content: Comprehensive texts, specialized texts, and overview texts.
  • Comprehensive texts cover a broad spectrum of reading instruction subjects and content. All five reading components should be addressed in comprehensive texts.
  • Specialized texts address a specific reading component, e.g., comprehension or a combination of reading components, but not all five.
  • Overview texts are supplemental materials that provide summary information on one or more reading components.

Texts that do not address reading instruction are categorized as not-applicable. Not-applicable texts may be devoted to teacher preparation in other important literacy areas such as literature appreciation, organizing small groups for reading, or classroom management.

Determining the Category
The initial categorization is established by reviewing the index for the presence of the key components: Phoneme (phonological) awareness, phonics (decoding, word analysis, word study), reading fluency, vocabulary (language development), and reading comprehension. If all five are included, the text will be rated as a comprehensive text. If one or a limited selection of the five components is found, the text will be rated as a specialized text. Texts are classified as an overview material if they summarize material on one or more components but do not provide in-depth materials on instruction or assessment. If none of the five components are included, yet the text is being used in a literacy course, it is categorized as not-applicable to the text review.

Rating the Text and Criteria
The expert reviewer determines if the text defines and presents each component in light of science, shedding unproven practices and advancing a depth of knowledge not only about how students learn to read, but how to teach students to read.

This evaluation leads to each text receiving one of the following ratings:
  • Exemplary Comprehensive Text
  • Acceptable Comprehensive Text
  • Not Acceptable Comprehensive Text
  • Acceptable Specialized Text
  • Not Acceptable Specialized Text
  • Acceptable Overview Text
  • Not Acceptable Overview Text

texts cover components comprehensively, providing future teachers with an accurate, research-based understanding of what the component is, how to assess acquisition of the component, and how to teach the component using acceptable proven teaching methods. Comprehensive texts must contain this information for all five components, and some are categorized as Exemplary based on their level of quality.

Not Acceptable texts present inaccurate or unscientific information about the component definitions, how to assess acquisition of the component, and/or how to teach one or more components.

Scoring rubric

Programs are scored based on their coverage of the five components of reading instruction - phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, comprehension, and fluency. 

Program grades are determined as follows:

Using the rubric below, coverage of each component is determined to be adequate with the accumulation of at least 6 points within a single course.

The grades for non-traditional programs are determined as follows, and considers only what is required prior to candidates becoming teachers of record:

    A: Program requires coursework meeting the criteria for an A or B above and a passing score on an acceptable reading-specific licensing test.
    B: Program requires coursework meeting the criteria for an A or B above or program requires a passing score on an acceptable reading-specific licensing test and coursework meeting the criteria for a C, D, or F above
    C: Program requires a passing score on an acceptable reading-specific licensing test, but no coursework.
    D: Program requires coursework that fails to meet the criteria for an A or B above.
    F: Program either does not require coursework and a passing score on an acceptable reading-specific licensing exam is not required.

Scoring rubrics last revised: No revisions since 2013 Teacher Prep Review (original edition)

Research rationale

Over the past 60 years, scientists from many fields have worked to determine how people learn to read and why some people struggle. In 2000, the National Reading Panel released an exhaustive review of this research, identifying the five critical components of effective reading instruction which are the basis of this standard.[1] If teachers were to routinely integrate these findings into instruction, it is estimated that the current failure rate of 20 to 30 percent could be reduced to the range of 2 to 10 percent.[2] The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) practice guide based on a comprehensive review of 56 studies that meet the WWC's rigorous research standards further validates the importance of instruction tailored to these five components.[3] Preservice preparation that addresses the five essential components of effective reading instruction ensures that novice teachers will enter the classroom ready to teach reading well.

Despite this research on the five critical components of reading instruction, preparation in reading instruction appears to be inadequate. A study of a sample of 2,237 preservice teachers attending a nationally representative sample of 99 institutions that prepare teachers for initial certification found that, on average, the teacher candidates failed to have adequate knowledge of the five essential components of early reading instruction, correctly answering only 57 percent of items on a "knowledge assessment." [4] Some evidence suggests that teacher candidates exhibit a greater understanding of these concepts when their required coursework focuses on them explicitly[5] and when they are taught by instructors with relevant professional training.[6]

If state licensing tests rigorously assessed teacher knowledge of reading instruction, the imperative of evaluating programs would be lessened. However, only 16 states have developed strong assessments that measure future teachers' knowledge of the science of reading. [7] For example, Massachusetts (the highest performing state in the country) has developed a rigorous assessment for elementary teachers focused solely on reading. Other states rely on either pedagogy tests or content tests that include items on reading instruction. Reading instruction is only a small part of most of these tests, so it is often possible to pass the tests without having adequate knowledge of the science of reading. This standard gains additional support from expert panels and school district superintendents, who agree that early reading is critical for elementary teachers. Finally, the Common Core State Standards for early elementary grades are explicitly aligned with the findings of the National Reading Panel.

    [1] National Reading Panel. (2000) Report of the National Reading Panel--Teaching Children to Read: An Evidence-Based Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature on Reading and Its Implications for Reading Instruction. Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
    [2] Lyon, G. R. (2003). Why do some children have difficulty learning to read? What can be done about it? Perspectives, 29(2)
    [3] Foorman, B., Beyler, N., Borradaile, K., Coyne, M., Denton, C. A., Dimino, J., ... Wissel, S. (2016). Foundational skills to support reading for understanding in kindergarten through 3rd grade (NCEE 2016-4008). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE), Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from the NCEE website: http://whatworks.ed.gov
    [4] Salinger, T., et al. (2010, September). Study of teacher preparation in early reading instruction. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved February 7, 2013, from http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/pubs/20104036/pdf/20104036....
    [5] Clark, S. K., Helfrich, S. R., & Hatch, L. (2015). Examining preservice teacher content and pedagogical content knowledge needed to teach reading in elementary school. Journal of Research in Reading, doi: 10.1111/1467-9817.12057.
    [6] Binks-Cantrell, E., Washburn, E. K., Malatesha Joshi, R., & Hougen, M. (2012). Peter effect in the preparation of reading teachers. Scientific Studies of Reading, 16(6), 526-536.