Special Education Teacher Preparation Policy
The state should ensure that special education teachers know the science of reading instruction and are fully prepared for the instructional shifts related to literacy associated with college-and career-readiness standards. This goal was consistent between 2015 and 2017.
Scientifically Based Reading Instruction—Tests and Standards: New legislation in Arkansas requires special education candidates to pass the Foundations of Reading assessment. The test's objectives include all five components of scientifically based reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. The state also addresses scientifically based reading instruction in its competencies for special education teachers.
Informational Texts: Arkansas addresses the instructional shifts associated with college- and career-readiness standards. The state's required competencies for special education teachers include the "knowledge of English/Language Arts/Literacy for learners with exceptionalities including ... teaching child and adolescent literature", for example:
Competencies for Special Education Teachers http://www.arkansased.gov/public/userfiles/HR_and_Educator_Effectiveness/Educator_Prep/Competency_PDFs_81214/SpEd_K_12_Initial_July_2015.pdf Rules Governing Educator Licensure http://www.arkansased.org/public/userfiles/HR_and_Educator_Effectiveness/HR_Educator_Licensure/Rules_for_Ed_Licensure_with_Emergency_Licensure_Rules.pdf Act 416 July 13th 2017 State Board of Education minutes http://www.arkansased.gov/state-board/minutes/board_meeting_categories/2017
Ensure that the science of reading test is meaningful.
Arkansas should ensure that its required assessment is fully aligned with all five instructional components of scientifically based reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.
Ensure that new special education teachers are prepared to incorporate literacy skills as an integral part of every subject.
Although Arkansas is on the right track with its requirement of the Foundations of Reading test, which addresses literacy skills, the in-depth coverage of the topic is presented as examples. Therefore, the extent to which this information is required is unclear. Arkansas is encouraged to make certain that its framework captures the major instructional shifts of college- and career-readiness standards, thereby ensuring that all special education candidates have the ability to adequately incorporate literacy skills as an integral part of every subject into classroom instruction.
Arkansas recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. The state was also helpful in providing NCTQ with facts that enhanced this analysis.
4B: Teaching Special Education Reading
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.
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. 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. 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.
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. 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. States should require no less from special education teachers in terms of preparation to teach reading than they require from general education teachers.
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. For special education teachers, preparation and training must focus on managing these instructional shifts while also helping students who may have serious reading deficiencies.