Elementary Teacher Preparation in Reading

Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy

Elementary Teacher Preparation in Reading Instruction

The state should ensure that new elementary teachers know the science of reading instruction.

Best practices

Fifteen states meet this goal by requiring that all candidates licensed to teach the elementary grades pass comprehensive assessments that specifically test the five elements of scientifically based reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. Independent reviews of the assessments used by Connecticut and Massachusetts confirm that these tests are rigorous measures of teacher candidates' knowledge of scientifically based reading instruction. 

Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2013). Elementary Teacher Preparation in Reading Instruction national results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/national/Elementary-Teacher-Preparation-in-Reading-Instruction-20
Best practice 2


Meets goal 13


Nearly meets goal 6


Meets goal in part 9


Meets a small part of goal 3


Does not meet goal 18


Progress on this goal since 2011

  • Improved
  • Stayed the same
  • Regressed

Do states adequately assess elementary candidates’ science of reading instruction knowledge?

Figure details

Yes. State requires a strong test to determine candidates' science of reading instruction knowledge.: AL, CA, CT, FL, IN, MA, MN, NC, NH, NM, NY, OH, OK, TN, VA, WI, WV

Partially. State requires a test, but it is insufficiently rigorous to fully measure candidates' science of reading instruction knowledge. : AR, AZ, DC, DE, GA, ID, KY, ME, NJ, OR, PA, RI, SC, TX, UT, VT

No. State does not require a test that measures candidates' science of reading instruction knowledge.: AK, CO, HI, IA, IL, KS, LA, MD, MI, MO, MS, MT, ND, NE, NV, SD, WA, WY

AL: Alabama's reading test spans the K-12 spectrum.

Research rationale

Reading science has identified five components of effective instruction.

Teaching children to read is the most important task teachers undertake. Over the past 60 years, scientists from many fields have worked to determine how people learn to read and why some struggle. This science of reading has led to breakthroughs that can dramatically reduce the number of children destined to become functionally illiterate or barely literate adults. By routinely applying in the classroom the lessons learned from the scientific findings, most reading failure can be avoided. Estimates indicate that the current failure rate of 20 to 30 percent could be reduced to 2 to 10 percent.

Scientific research has shown that there are five essential components of effective reading instruction: explicit and systematic instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. Many states' policies still do not reflect the strong research consensus in reading instruction that has emerged over the last few decades. Many teacher preparation programs, still caught up in the reading wars, resist teaching scientifically based reading instruction. NCTQ's reports on teacher preparation, beginning with What Education Schools Aren't Teaching about Reading and What Elementary Teachers Aren't Learning in 2006 and continuing through the Teacher Prep Review in 2013, have consistently found the overwhelming majority of teacher preparation programs across the country do not train teachers in the science of reading. Whether through standards or coursework requirements, states must ensure that their preparation programs graduate only teacher candidates who know how to teach children to read.

Most current reading tests do not offer assurance that teachers know the science of reading.

A growing number of states, such as Massachusetts, Connecticut and Virginia, require strong, stand-alone assessments entirely focused on the science of reading. Other states rely on either pedagogy tests or content tests that include items on reading instruction. However, since reading instruction is addressed only in one small part of most of these tests, it is often not necessary to know the science of reading to pass. States need to make sure that a teacher candidate cannot pass a test that purportedly covers reading instruction without knowing the critical material.

Elementary Teacher Preparation in Reading Instruction: Supporting Research

For evidence on what new teachers are not learning about reading instruction, see NCTQ, "What Education Schools Aren't Teaching About Reading and What Elementary Teachers Aren't Learning" 2006) at:http://www.nctq.org/nctq/images/nctq_reading_study_app.pdf.

For problems with existing reading tests, see S. Stotsky, "Why American Students Do Not Learn to Read Very Well: The Unintended Consequences of Title II and Teacher Testing," Third Education Group Review, Vol. 2, No. 2, 2006; and D. W. Rigden, Report on Licensure Alignment with the Essential Components of Effective Reading Instruction (Washington, D.C.: Reading First Teacher Education Network, 2006). 

For information on where states set passing scores on elementary level content tests for teacher licensing across the U.S., see chart on p. 13 of NCTQ "Recommendations for the Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Removing the Roadblocks: How Federal Policy Can Cultivate Effective Teachers," (2011).