Special Education Preparation in Reading:

Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy


The state should ensure that special education teachers know the science of reading instruction and are sufficiently 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). Special Education Preparation in Reading: California results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/CA-Special-Education-Preparation-in-Reading-69

Analysis of California's policies

As a condition of initial licensure, California requires all new special education 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 addresses some of the instructional shifts associated with college- and career-readiness standards. 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 that further addresses these shifts.

The state's educator preparation standards address the incorporation of literacy across core content areas. Both single-subject and multiple-subject credential candidates must be able to "teach students to independently read and comprehend instructional materials that include increasingly complex subject-relevant texts and graphic/media representations presented in diverse formats. Candidates also teach students to write opinion/persuasive and expository text in the content area." These requirements are repeated in all educator preparation standards related to Reading/Language Arts, Science and Social Science.

Regarding struggling readers, the RICA testing standards require teachers to "demonstrate knowledge and ability in assessment with respect to comprehension of expository/informational texts and development of study skills and research skills." This competency is followed with the example of "demonstrating ability to use the results of assessments to plan effective instruction and interventions with respect to comprehension of expository/informational texts and development of study skills and research skills, adjust instruction and interventions to meet the identified needs of students, and ultimately determine whether relevant standards have been met." 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

Ensure that new special education teachers are prepared to incorporate informational text of increasing complexity into classroom instruction.
Although California's reading test addresses informational texts, the state should strengthen its policy and ensure that special education teachers are able to challenge students with texts of increasing complexity.

State response to our analysis

The 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 special education elementary 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. That some states actually require less from special education teachers in terms of preparation to teach reading than they require from general education teachers is baffling and deeply worrisome. 

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. For special education teachers, preparation and training must focus on managing these instructional shifts while also helping students who may have serious reading deficiencies.

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.