Elementary Teacher Preparation in Reading
Instruction : Alabama

2011 Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy

Goal

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

Meets
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Elementary Teacher Preparation in Reading Instruction : Alabama results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/AL-Elementary-Teacher-Preparation-in-Reading-Instruction--6

Analysis of Alabama's policies

In its standards for elementary teacher preparation, Alabama requires teacher preparation programs to address the science of reading. Programs must provide training in the five instructional components of scientifically based reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension, as identified by the Alabama Reading Initiative.

Further, Alabama has recently approved a science of reading testing requirement. As of September 1, 2012, all elementary teachers must pass the newly developed Praxis II "Teaching Reading" assessment. 


Citation

Recommendations for Alabama

Monitor new Praxis II assessment to ensure rigor.
Alabama is commended for its long commitment to effective reading instruction and for adding a licensure test to bolster its preparation requirements. However, the state will need to monitor this new assessment to make sure it really is rigorous and an appropriate measure of teachers' knowledge and skill of scientifically based reading instruction. The track record of Praxis assessments in this regard is mixed at best, and although the test description seems on track, the sample test questions leave some room for doubt.

State response to our analysis

Alabama was helpful in providing NCTQ with the facts necessary for this analysis.

How we graded

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. While elementary teachers need to be well versed in these components, even secondary teachers need at least some knowledge of this process, particularly if they work in high-poverty schools.

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 report What Education Schools Aren't Teaching about Reading and What Elementary Teachers Aren't Learning found that only 15 percent of teacher preparation programs in a national sample were providing even minimal exposure to 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 few states, such as Massachusetts and Virginia, have developed 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.

Research rationale

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 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) at: 
http://www.tegr.org/Review/Articles/vol2/v2n2.pdf.

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).