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: Florida does not require its special education teachers who teach the elementary grades to pass a rigorous test of reading instruction. However, in its standards for program approval, Florida requires teacher preparation programs to address the science of reading.
Informational Texts: Florida's reading competencies for special education teachers fully address the instructional shifts toward building content knowledge and vocabulary through careful reading of informational and literary texts associated with the college- and career-readiness standards. For example, the state's reading competencies require preparation programs to ensure candidates be able to:
Florida Rule 6A-5.066 and 6A-4.01795 and 6A-4.0163
Require all special education teacher candidates who teach the elementary grades to pass a rigorous assessment in the science of reading instruction.
Florida should require a rigorous reading assessment tool to ensure that its elementary special education teacher candidates are adequately prepared in the science of reading instruction before entering the classroom. The Florida Teacher Certification Examinations (FTCE) elementary education test required of general education teachers includes the equivalent of a comprehensive science of reading assessment. Florida should, therefore, expand its existing policy and require all special education teachers who teach the elementary grades to pass this assessment as well. It is especially critical that these teacher candidates possess the knowledge and skills related to the science of reading and pass a rigorous test that addresses all five instructional components of scientifically based reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. Elementary special education teachers who do not possess the minimum knowledge in this area should not be eligible for licensure.
Florida recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis, however this analysis was updated subsequent to the state's review. In addition, the state noted that it recently passed House Bill 7069, which will require regulatory changes to the renewal requirements of a Florida Professional Certificate for educators who hold certificates with specialization areas that include reading instruction or intervention for students in grades K-6. According to the state, these educators will need to earn a minimum of two college credits in specific reading instruction and intervention strategies beginning with the certificate validity period of July 1, 2020. The new renewal requirements also impact educators who hold a Florida Professional Certificate in Exceptional Student Education.
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.