Special Education Teacher Preparation Policy
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: Massachusetts's preparation and licensure requirements for special education teachers go further than most states' to address general reading instruction and the needs of struggling readers. The state requires teacher candidates who teach students with moderate disabilities and those who teach the visually impaired to pass the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure (MTEL) Foundations of Reading test, which addresses the core areas of scientifically based reading instruction. Candidates may also satisfy this test requirement by passing the MTEL Reading Specialist test.
Informational texts: Massachusetts's Foundations of Reading assessment requires teachers to "understand how to apply reading comprehension skills and strategies to informational/expository texts." The state further provides an extensive list of examples for achieving this competency and incorporates the instructional shifts in the use of text associated with Massachusetts's college- and career-readiness standards for students. The Reading Specialist test does not address the use of informational texts.
Massachusetts requires its PreK-8 special education certificate to pass the MTEL General Curriculum test. Its standards for language arts require teachers to "recognize types of nonfiction (e.g., informational text) and common organizational features of nonfiction (e.g., chronological order, comparison and contrast, illustrations, captions, keys)."
The state also requires that the 5-12 special education certificate candidates pass either the General Curriculum test or a single subject-matter test at either the 5-8 or 8-12 level. The MTEL secondary English assessment mentions "the application of strategies before, during, and after reading to promote comprehension of expository texts" as an example under the standard "understand language acquisition, reading processes, and research-based theories relating to reading;" however, the testing framework does not address knowledge of informational texts.
Literacy Skills: The Foundations of Reading assessment requires teachers to demonstrate "strategies for promoting comprehension across the curriculum by expanding knowledge of academic language, including conventions of standard English grammar and usage, differences between the conventions of spoken and written standard English, general academic vocabulary, and content-area vocabulary." However, this is just one example under the broad test objective heading of "Understand vocabulary development." The Reading Specialist test does not address the incorporation of literacy skills in every core subject.
Struggling Readers: Regarding struggling readers, Massachusetts's Foundations of Reading test requires the following:
MTEL Tests www.mtel.nesinc.com Code of Massachusetts Regulations 603 CMR 7.06(25)
Ensure that new special education 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 special education 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 special education teachers are prepared to incorporate literacy skills as an integral part of every subject.
Although Massachusetts is on the right track with its requirement of the Foundations of Reading test, which addresses literacy skills, 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 special education candidates have the ability to adequately incorporate literacy skills as an integral part of every subject 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.
Support Struggling Readers
Although Massachusetts is on the right track with its requirements of the Foundations of Reading test, which addresses the use of assessments and strategies to support struggling readers, the coverage of the topic is presented as examples. Therefore, the extent to which this information is required is unclear. Massachusetts is therefore encouraged to strengthen its teacher preparation requirements and ensure that all special education candidates who teach the elementary grades have the ability to identify as well as support struggling readers.
Massachusetts recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis, however this analysis was updated subsequent to the state's review. The state noted that in June of 2017, The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved revised regulatory language that grants the state department the authority to develop (and update) guidelines for the Subject-Matter Knowledge (SMK) Requirements used by providers to design teacher preparation programs and by the state in developing items and cut scores for the MTEL. In anticipation of this, Massachusetts indicated that it has already begun convening working groups from the field to update the SMKs in alignment with the 2013 MA Curriculum Frameworks. This will mean substantial revisions to expectations for teacher candidates in all programs with a focus on literacy across the subject-areas and an emphasis on college and career readiness for students. The guidelines will be out for public comment this fall and finalized by January 2018.
NCTQ looks forward to reviewing the state's progress in future editions of the Yearbook.
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.