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 and are prepared for the instructional shifts related to literacy associated with college-and career-readiness standards.

Best practices

California stands out for its focus on elementary teachers readiness to teach reading and literacy skills. All elementary candidates must pass comprehensive assessments that specifically test the five elements of scientifically based reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. California's test frameworks go further than most states and specify that elementary teacher candidates must have the ability to not only build content knowledge and vocabulary through careful reading of informational and literary texts but also to challenge students with texts of increasing complexity. Candidates must also know how to incorporate literacy skills as an integral part of every subject and are prepared to intervene and support students who are struggling.

NCTQ also commends states using the Foundations of Reading assessment to confirm that new elementary teachers are well grounded in scientifically based reading instruction. States using this state-of-the-art test are: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Wisconsin.

Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2015). 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-69
Best practice 1


Meets goal 3


Nearly meets goal 16


Meets goal in part 6


Meets a small part of goal 10


Does not meet goal 15


Progress on this goal since 2013

  • Improved
  • Stayed the same
  • Regressed

State requires a test that fully measures elementary candidates' knowledge of the science of reading instruction.

Figure details

State requires a test that fully measures candidates' knowledge of the science of reading for licensure. : AL, CA, CT, FL, IN, MN, MS, NC, NH, NM, NY, OH, OK, TN, VA, WI, WV

State requires a test that measures candidates' knowledge of the science of reading for licensure but combines this subject with other core subject areas under the same score.: AZ, OR, PA, WA

State requires a test, but it does not measure candidates' knowledge of all components of the science of reading for licensure. : AR, DC, DE, GA, ID, KY, LA, MA, ME, MO, NJ, RI, SC, TX, UT, VT, WY

State does not require a test that measures candidates' knowledge of the science of reading, or it allows some candidates to bypass the test.: AK, CO, HI, IA, IL, KS, MD, MI, MT, ND, NE, NV, SD

AL: Alabama's reading test spans the K-12 spectrum.
MA: In addition to the Foundations of Reading test, candidates in Massachusetts have the option of meeting this test requirement by passing the MTEL Reading Specialist test. This test assesses the components of the science of reading instruction, but includes references to standards that are not aligned with the science of reading.
ME: Additionally, Maine also offers an early elementary license covering grades K-3. Early elementary candidates are required to pass the Praxis Education of Young Children (5024) test, which does not cover the science of reading instruction.
NC: Teachers have until their second year to pass the reading test.
TN: New legislation in Tennessee allows teachers to delay passage of content and pedagogy tests if they possess a bachelor's degree in a core content area.

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 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 and 2014, 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 direct programs to provide  this critical training. But relying on programs alone is insufficient; states must only grant a license to new elementary teachers who can demonstrate they have the knowledge and skills 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.

College- and career-readiness standards require significant shifts in literacy instruction.  
College- and career-readiness standards for K-12 students adopted by nearly all states require from a teachers a different focus on literacy integrated into all subject areas. The standards demand that teachers are prepared to bring complex text and academic language into regular use, emphasize the use of evidence from informational and literary texts and build knowledge and vocabulary through content-rich text. While most states have not ignored teachers' need for training and professional development related to these instructional shifts, few states have attended to the parallel need to align teacher competencies and requirements for teacher preparation so that new teachers will enter the classroom ready to help students meet the expectations of these standards. 
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).

For an extensive summary of the research base supporting the instructional shifts associated with college- and career-readiness standards, see "Research Supporting the Common Core ELA Literacy Shifts and Standards" available from Student Achievement Partners.