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.

Nearly meets goal
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2015). Special Education Preparation in Reading: Indiana results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/IN-Special-Education-Preparation-in-Reading-69

Analysis of Indiana's policies

Indiana requires all special education teachers to pass the CORE Exceptional Needs - Mild Intervention: Reading Instruction assessment, which addresses all five instructional components of scientifically based reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.

The testing framework also incorporates the instructional shifts in the use of text associated with the state's college- and career-readiness standards and requires the following:

  • Knowledge of key concepts and scientifically based reading research in the comprehension and analysis of informational, persuasive and literary texts, such as levels of reading comprehension as applied to these texts; comprehension strategies; critical reading; text-based and nontext-based factors that affect reading comprehension; genres, text structures, characteristics and graphic, textual and organizational features of informational and persuasive texts; and genres, key elements and characteristics of literary texts
  • Ability to provide SBRR-based, evidence-based and developmentally appropriate assessment, instruction, intervention, extension, and ongoing progress monitoring in the comprehension and analysis of informational, persuasive and literary texts, including response to literature.
Indiana's standards for special education teachers also require "the ability to apply research-supported strategies for providing specially designed reading instruction to students with mild exceptional needs, including strategies for providing explicit and systematic instruction and strategies for using technology to support students' reading skills." New legislation in Indiana also requires teacher preparation programs to prepare candidates to be able "to recognize...a student who is not progressing at a normal rate related to reading and may need to be referred to the school's multidisciplinary team...."


Recommendations for Indiana

Ensure that new special education teachers are prepared to incorporate literacy skills as an integral part of every subject.
Indiana's standards are commendable regarding informational texts. To further strengthen its policy, however, the state should expand these standards to include literacy skills and using text to build content knowledge in history/social studies, science, technical subjects and the arts.

Monitor rigor of reading test. 
Although Indiana is commended for requiring all special education teacher candidates to pass a science of reading test, the state should ensure that this assessment is as rigorous as the one required of general education elementary teachers, and that the passing score is meaningful and reflects a high level of performance.

State response to our analysis

Indiana indicated that it regularly monitors assessment data, including pass rates and average number of attempts before passing, and will follow up with additional passing score reviews for any content area identified as needing additional review. By administrative rules, the state noted, pass rates are shared with the State Board of Education annually, and if the SBOE decides a review is necessary, then a review will take place to ensure that cut-scores are meaningful.

In addition, Indiana reiterated that teacher candidates completing an Exceptional Needs: Mild Intervention program as a stand alone license or adding to a secondary license are required to successfully pass the Exceptional Needs: Mild Intervention Reading Instruction Indiana CORE Assessment.

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.