Teaching Reading

Special Education Teacher Preparation Policy

Teaching Reading

The state should ensure that high-incidence special education teachers demonstrate sufficient knowledge of the science of reading instruction. This goal has been revised between 2017 and 2020.

Best practices

Although NCTQ is not awarding "best practice" honors, New York deserves recognition for policies that ensure all special education candidates who will teach high-incidence students in the elementary grades are sufficiently prepared to teach reading. These special education candidates must pass a comprehensive assessment that specifically tests the five elements of scientifically based reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Additionally, eight states—Arkansas, Connecticut, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oklahoma and Virginia, also require special education candidates to pass a test of scientifically based reading instruction.

Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2020). Teaching Reading national results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/national/Teaching-Reading-92
Best practice 0


Meets goal 9


Nearly meets goal 2


Meets goal in part 1


Meets a small part of goal 8


Does not meet goal 31


Do states measure special education candidates’ science of reading instruction knowledge?

Add previous year
Figure details

Yes. State requires a strong test measuring candidates' science of reading instruction knowledge.: AR, CT, IN, MA, MD, NC, NY, OH, OK, VA

Partially. State requires a test that is insufficiently rigorous to fully measure candidates' science of reading instruction knowledge.: AL, CO, GA, ID, IL, LA, MN, NJ, RI, TN

No. State does not require a test.: AK, AZ, CA, DC, DE, FL, HI, IA, KS, KY, ME, MI, MO, MS, MT, ND, NE, NH, NM, NV, OR, PA, SC, SD, TX, UT, VT, WA, WI, WV, WY

CA: Candidates in California who are already credentialed via a subject-matter preparation program that included student teaching are exempt from passing the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment (RICA).
GA: Only candidates applying for the PreK-5 special education license have to pass this test. PreK-12 candidates are not required to pass this test.
MS: Only candidates adding the K-8 mild-to-moderate supplemental endorsement to an elementary license will have passed the Foundations of Reading test.
NC: Teachers may have until third year to pass tests, if they attempt to pass them during their first year.
NJ: Only special education candidates adding their certification to an elementary certification would have passed New Jersey's required Praxis Multiple Subjects (5001) test. This test assesses the science of reading, but integrates this topic with too many other topics related to English Language Arts to serve as a reliable measure of a candidate's knowledge of the science of reading. New Jersey allows a test exemption to candidates with a GPA of 3.5 or higher who fail by 5% or less.
RI: Only teachers adding their special education certificate to an elementary certification are required to pass the Praxis Elementary Education: Multiple Subjects (5001) test.
TN: Tennessee allows teachers to delay passage of content and pedagogy tests if they possess a bachelor’s degree in a core content area.
WI: Candidates that have completed a rigorous course of study in the science of teaching reading, which includes coaching by a reading expert and a portfolio, are exempt from passing the Foundations of Reading Test.

Updated: February 2020

How we graded

4B: Teaching Special Education Reading

  • Scientifically Based Reading Instruction: The state should require that all new high-incidence special education teachers who teach elementary grades are required to pass a rigorous elementary test of scientifically based reading instruction. The design of the test should ensure that prospective teachers cannot pass without knowing the five scientifically based components of early reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. The state should require that all teacher preparation programs prepare high-incidence elementary special education candidates in the science of reading instruction.
Scientifically Based Reading Instruction
The total goal score is earned based on the following:

  • Full credit: The state will earn a full point if it requires all new high-incidence special education teachers who will teach elementary grades to pass a rigorous test of scientifically based reading instruction. The design of the test must ensure that all prospective teachers are competent in the five research-based components of early reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.
  • Three-quarters credit: The state will earn three-quarters of a point if it requires all new high-incidence special education teachers to pass a stand-alone reading test of scientifically based reading instruction, but the test includes content not aligned to scientifically based reading instruction.
  • One-quarter credit: The state will earn only one-quarter of a point if the teacher preparation standards for high-incidence special education teachers address the five components of scientifically based reading instruction, but the state does not have an adequate - or any - scientifically based reading instruction test.

Research rationale

Teaching children to read is the most important task teachers at the elementary level 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.[1]

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.[2] 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. Reports by NCTQ 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 2016, have consistently found the overwhelming majority of teacher preparation programs across the country do not train teachers in the science of reading.[3] 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 licenses to new special education teachers who can demonstrate they have the knowledge and skills to teach children to read.[4]

Effective early reading instruction is especially important for teachers of special education students. By far, the largest classification of students receiving special education services are those with learning disabilities. Based on data from the U.S. Department of Education, it is estimated that reading disabilities account for about 80 percent of learning disabilities.[5] While early childhood and elementary teachers must know the reading science to prevent reading difficulties, special education teachers, and especially elementary special education teachers, must know how to support students who have already fallen behind and struggle with reading and literacy skills.[6] States should require no less from special education teachers in terms of preparation to teach reading than they require from general education teachers.[7]

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 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 texts. While most states have not ignored teachers' need for training and professional development related to these instructional shifts, states also need to attend 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.[8] For special education teachers, preparation and training must focus on managing these instructional shifts while also helping students who may have serious reading deficiencies.

[1] Torgesen, J.K. (November 2005). Preventing reading disabilities in young children: Requirements at the classroom and school level. Western North Carolina LD/ADD Symposium. Retrieved from http://www.fcrr.org/science/pdf/torgesen/NC-interventions.pdf; Walsh, K., Glaser, D., & Wilcox, D. D. (2006). What education schools aren't teaching about reading and what elementary teachers aren't learning. National Council on Teacher Quality. Retrieved from http://www.nctq.org/nctq/images/nctq_reading_study_app.pdf
[2] National Reading Panel (US), National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (US). (2000). Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from https://www.nichd.nih.gov/publications/pubs/nrp/Documents/report.pdf; To review further indications of the affirmation of the previously-mentioned research, see: Foorman, B., Beyler, N., Borradaile, K., Coyne, M., Denton, C. A., Dimino, J., ... & Keating, B. (2016). Foundational skills to support reading for understanding in kindergarten through 3rd grade: Educator's practice guide. NCEE 2016-4008. National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance. Retrieved from https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/Docs/PracticeGuide/wwc_foundationalreading_040717.pdf
[3] Walsh, K., Glaser, D., & Wilcox, D. D. (2006). What education schools aren't teaching about reading and what elementary teachers aren't learning. National Council on Teacher Quality. Retrieved from http://www.nctq.org/nctq/images/nctq_reading_study_app.pdf; National Council on Teacher Quality. (2016, December). Landscapes in teacher prep: Undergraduate elementary education. National Council on Teacher Quality's Teacher Prep Review. Retrieved from http://www.nctq.org/dmsView/UE_2016_Landscape_653385_656245
[4] Stotsky, S. (2006). Why American students do not learn to read very well: The unintended consequences of Title II and teacher testing. Third Education Group Review, 2(2), 1-37. Retrieved from http://www.tegr.org/Review/Articles/vol2/v2n2.pdf; See also: Rigden, D. (2006). Report on licensure alignment with the essential components of effective reading instruction. National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, Reading First Teacher Education Network. Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=; For information on where states set passing scores on elementary level content tests for teacher licensing across the U.S., see: National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Recommendations for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Retrieved from http://www.nctq.org/p/publications/docs/nctq_eseaReauthorization.pdf
[5] Wehman, P. (2002). A new era: Revitalizing special education for children and their families. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 17(4), 194-197. Retrieved from http://ectacenter.org/~pdfs/calls/2010/earlypartc/revitalizing_special_education.pdf
[6] Research also connects individual content knowledge with increased reading comprehension, making the capacity of the teacher to infuse all instruction with content of particular importance for student achievement. See: Willingham, D. T. (2006). How knowledge helps: It speeds and strengthens reading comprehension, learning, and thinking. American Educator, 30(1), 30. Retrieved from https://www.aft.org/newspubs/periodicals/ae/spring2006/willingham.cfm
[7] Levenson, N. (2011). Something has got to change: Rethinking special education (Working Paper 2011-01). American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED521782
[8] Student Achievement Partners. (2015). Research supporting the Common Core ELA/literacy shifts and standards. Retrieved from https://achievethecore.org/content/upload/Research%20Supporting%20the%20ELA%20Standards%20and%20Shifts%20Final.pdf