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.

Does not meet
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2015). Special Education Preparation in Reading: Michigan results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/MI-Special-Education-Preparation-in-Reading-69

Analysis of Michigan's policies

Michigan does not require its special education teachers who teach the elementary grades to pass a rigorous test of reading instruction.The state also does not require teacher preparation programs to prepare special education candidates in the principles of scientifically based reading instruction. Michigan has neither coursework requirements nor standards related to this critical area.

Michigan's preparation and licensure requirements for special education teachers address some of the components of the state's college- and career-readiness standards for students. Candidates with an elementary certificate will have passed the Michigan Test for Teacher Certification (MTTC) general elementary content test. Although it addresses expository texts, the assessment does not include the instructional shifts toward building content knowledge and vocabulary through increasingly complex informational texts and careful reading of informational and literary texts associated with the state's college- and career-readiness standards for students.

Michigan's reading standards for elementary teachers articulate that all candidates must "promote the integration of language arts in all content areas." 

Candidates with secondary certification will have passed a single-subject exam. Michigan requires that secondary English teachers pass the MTTC English assessment. The testing framework requires teachers to "understand the distinctive features of various genres and recognize recurrent themes in all genres," which includes "analyzing the characteristics of nonfiction genres (e.g., informational texts)."

Testing frameworks do not address incorporating literacy skills into other content areas. Michigan's reading standards for secondary teachers require that teachers can "demonstrate understanding of the integrated nature of the English language arts across all content areas." The standards also articulate that teachers must "understand the characteristics of texts and how textual aids enhance comprehension," with further clarification that teachers must "recognize elements of fiction and non-fiction, including imaginative, narrative, and expository texts." However, these standards do not go far enough to ensure that teachers include literacy skills across the core content areas.

Regarding struggling readers, the state's elementary standards require elementary teacher candidates to "recognize how differences among learners influence their literacy development and implement programs to address the strengths and needs of individual learners...." Secondary reading standards require a teacher to:

  • Know and implement practices that address the strengths and needs of all learners
  • Recognize and provide differentiated instruction for students with reading disorders
  • Provide instruction and support for students with reading disorders.


Recommendations for Michigan

Require all special education teacher candidates who teach elementary grades to pass a rigorous assessment in the science of reading instruction. 
Michigan 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 assessment should clearly 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. If the test is combined with an assessment that also tests general pedagogy or elementary content, it should report a subscore for the science of reading specifically. Elementary special education teachers who do not possess the minimum knowledge in this area should not be eligible for licensure. 

Ensure that teacher preparation programs prepare elementary teaching candidates in the science of reading instruction.
Michigan should require teacher preparation programs in the state to train special education candidates in scientifically based reading instruction.

Ensure that new special education teachers are prepared to incorporate informational text of increasing complexity into classroom instruction.
Either through testing frameworks or teacher standards, Michigan should specifically address the instructional shifts toward building content knowledge and vocabulary through increasingly complex informational texts and careful reading of informational and literary texts associated with the state's college- and career-readiness standards for students.

Ensure that new special education teachers are prepared to incorporate literacy skills as an integral part of every subject.
To ensure that special education students are capable of accessing varied information about the world around them, Michigan should expand on its existing standards and require that all special education teachers include literacy skills and using text to build content knowledge in history/social studies, science, technical subjects and the arts. 

Support struggling readers. 

Michigan should articulate more specific requirements ensuring that all special education teachers are prepared to intervene and support students who are struggling with reading. With reading difficulties generally representing the primary reason for special education placements, it is essential that all special education teachers have the knowledge and skills to diagnose and support students with literacy needs.

State response to our analysis

Michigan recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. However, this analysis was updated subsequent to the state's review.

The state added that multiple NCTQ recommendations regarding scientifically based reading instruction have also been recommended by a Third Grade Reading Workgroup. Michigan indicated that although specific statutes and regulatory actions have not yet been taken in response to these recommendations, the Michigan Department of Education regards this report as a blueprint for action. Recommendation from this workgroup include:

  • Changing the Michigan Test for Teacher Certification "to predictively measure teaching skills and basic content knowledge and vocabulary necessary for teachers" specifically in the area of teaching reading to PreK-3 age students
  • Implementing "diagnostic-driven instruction and interventions" with the PreK-3 age group
  • Increasing the required number of credit hours in reading instruction in initial teacher preparation from 6 to 12, which affords the possibility of more in-depth preparation in the areas identified by NCTQ as particularly impactful in supporting children's mastery of Common Core State Standards.
Michigan indicated that to the extent that these proposed recommendations are adopted for all teachers, special education teachers will receive the same preparation and assessment in the science of reading instruction as do general education teachers.

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.