Elementary Teacher Preparation in Reading
Instruction: Massachusetts

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.

Meets a small part of goal
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2020). Elementary Teacher Preparation in Reading Instruction: Massachusetts results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/MA-Elementary-Teacher-Preparation-in-Reading-Instruction-69

Analysis of Massachusetts's policies

Massachusetts requires elementary teacher candidates to pass its own Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure (MTEL) Foundations of Reading test, which is based on the state's standards and addresses the core areas of scientifically based reading instruction. However, candidates may also satisfy this test requirement by passing the MTEL Reading Specialist test. This test does not adequately address all of the components of the science of reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.

Elementary teacher candidates must  be prepared for the key instructional shifts related to literacy that differentiate college- and career-readiness standards from their predecessors. The Foundations of Reading test requires teachers to "understand how to apply reading comprehension skills and strategies to informational/expository texts." The framework then offers an extensive list of examples for achieving this competency. The Reading Specialist test does not address the use of informational texts.

Neither teacher standards nor testing frameworks address incorporating literacy into all academic subjects.

Regarding struggling readers, Massachusetts's Foundations of Reading test requires the following:
  • An understanding of formal and informal methods for assessing reading development—for example, assessment of the reading development of individual students (e.g., struggling readers)
  • An understanding of multiple approaches to reading instruction—for example, awareness of strategies and resources for supporting individual students (e.g., struggling readers).
The Reading Specialist test has similar objectives that address the needs of struggling readers.


Recommendations for Massachusetts

Require teacher candidates to pass a rigorous assessment in the science of reading instruction.
Massachusetts is commended for requiring the Foundations of Reading assessment that ensures that its elementary teacher candidates are adequately prepared in the science of reading instruction before entering the classroom. The state undermines this strong policy by allowing candidates to meet the requirement with the Reading Specialist test.  This assessment does not fully test knowledge and skills related to the science of reading and address all five instructional components of scientifically based reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.

Ensure that new elementary teachers are prepared to incorporate informational text of increasing complexity into classroom instruction.

Although Massachusetts is on the right track with its requirement of the Foundations of Reading test, which addresses knowledge of informational texts, the in-depth coverage of the topic is presented as examples. Therefore, the extent to which this information is required is unclear. Massachusetts is encouraged to make certain that its framework captures the major instructional shifts of college- and career-readiness standards, thereby ensuring that all elementary candidates have the ability to adequately incorporate complex informational text into classroom instruction. Because candidates may also satisfy the reading test requirement by taking the MTEL Reading Specialist test which does not address the knowledge of informational texts, Massachusetts is encouraged to require all candidates to take the Foundations of Reading test.

Ensure that new elementary teachers are prepared to incorporate literacy skills as an integral part of every subject.

To ensure that elementary students are capable of accessing varied information about the world around them, Massachusetts should also—either through testing frameworks or teacher standards—include literacy skills and using text to build content knowledge in history/social studies, science, technical subjects and the arts.

State response to our analysis

Massachusetts listed the following components of the Foundations of Reading test:

  • Knowledge of the significant theories, practices, and programs for developing reading skills and reading comprehension
  • Phonemic awareness and phonics: principles, knowledge and instructional practices
  • Diagnosis and assessment of reading skills using standardized, criterion-referenced and informal assessment instruments
  • Development of a listening, speaking and reading vocabulary
  • Theories on the relationships between beginning writing and reading.
  • Theories of first-and second- language acquisition and development.
The state also listed the components of the Reading Specialist test;
  • Knowledge of the significant theories, practices and programs for developing reading skills and reading comprehension.
  • Phonemic awareness and phonics: principles, knowledge and instructional practices
  • History and nature of English vocabulary and of English-language dialects; development of vocabulary knowledge
  • Theories, research and practices for reading instruction in the academic disciplines
  • Selection and use of appropriate programs, materials and technology for reading instruction
  • Knowledge of, and selection criteria for, literature and informational books for children and adolescents
  • Screening and diagnostic instruments, their administration and use for determining student strengths and weaknesses
  • Knowledge and use of a variety of informal and formal reading assessments
  • Second language acquisition and its relationship to literacy learning
  • Child and adolescent development and the timing of formal reading instruction
  • Cognitive development in adolescence and its relationship to reading instruction.
  • Approaches and practices for writing instruction, including assessment of writing skills and their relationship to reading
  • Methods to support classroom teachers and tutors in the improvement of reading instruction, including consultation techniques and professional development.

Updated: September 2020

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.