Elementary Teacher Preparation in Reading
Instruction: California

Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy


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 Practice
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2015). Elementary Teacher Preparation in Reading Instruction: California results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/CA-Elementary-Teacher-Preparation-in-Reading-Instruction-69

Analysis of California's policies

As a condition of initial licensure, California requires all new elementary teachers to pass a reading instruction test, the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment (RICA). This assessment adequately addresses the five components of scientific reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.

California also requires that teacher preparation programs for elementary teacher candidates address the science of reading. Prior to initial licensure, candidates must satisfy the "Developing English Language Skills" requirement, which includes a comprehensive reading instruction course that focuses on "the systematic study of phonemic awareness, phonics and decoding; literature, language and comprehension; and diagnostic and early intervention techniques." 

Elementary teacher candidates must  be prepared for the key instructional shifts related to literacy that differentiate college- and career-readiness standards from their predecessors. California addresses the instructional shifts in the use of text associated with the state's college- and career-readiness standards for students in its Reading Instruction Competence Assessment (RICA), which is a requirement for elementary teachers. According to content specifications, teachers must be able to "understand how to promote students' comprehension of expository/informational texts and their development of study skills and research skills." Additional in-depth testing standards follow the competency to further ensure alignment with these shifts.

In addition, revised testing standards for the required CSET: Multiple Subjects test's "Reading, Language, and Literature" subtest now address both informational texts and text complexity.

These new testing standards also address incorporating literacy in other subject areas, including science and social studies.

California addresses the needs of struggling readers in its testing standards for the RICA and CSET: Multiple Subjects tests. In addition, California's educator preparation standards in Reading, Writing and Related Language Instruction for Multiple Subject credential candidates address the needs of struggling readers by requiring that teachers "must demonstrate knowledge and ability to use multiple monitoring measures within the three basic types of assessments to determine students' progress towards state adopted content standards...[and] candidates need to be able to analyze and interpret results to plan effective and differentiated instruction and interventions."


Recommendations for California

Monitor teacher preparation programs.
California's testing standards regarding literacy are commendable. However, to ensure that elementary teacher candidates are prepared, the state is encouraged to make certain its teacher preparation programs are actually providing adequate training in these instructional shifts associated with California's college- and career-readiness standards for students.

State response to our analysis

The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing was helpful in providing NCTQ with facts necessary for this analysis.

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.