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.

Meets a small part of goal
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2015). Special Education Preparation in Reading: Missouri results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/MO-Special-Education-Preparation-in-Reading-69

Analysis of Missouri's policies

Candidates applying for K-12 Elementary Mild to Moderate certification are required to pass the Missouri Educator Gateway Assessments (MEGA) elementary test. Although it addresses the science of reading, it does not amount to a stand alone reading test. The MEGA Early Childhood Special Education test does not address the science of reading.  However, the state's special education competencies address the principles of scientifically based reading instruction. 

According to the elementary test framework, teachers must be able to "understand text comprehension and vocabulary development." The state then offers extensive examples that incorporate some of the instructional shifts in the use of text associated with Missouri's college- and career-readiness standards for students. English language arts competencies also require teachers to "demonstrate the ability to comprehend, interpret, and analyze literary and informational texts." The early childhood test framework does not address informational texts. 

Candidates applying for the K-12 Middle/Secondary Mild to Moderate certificate are required to pass the MEGA Mild/Moderate Middle/Secondary Multi-Content test. Teachers must "understand reading comprehension, vocabulary, and analysis and interpretation of literary and informational texts." The state then lists in-depth examples pertaining to informational texts. Missouri also offers a K-12 Specific Content Middle/Secondary Option. Candidates must pass a single-subject content test at either the middle or secondary level. (See discussion of middle and secondary requirements.)

Missouri's elementary test addresses literacy within its science competencies by requiring teachers to "apply literacy skills to the interpretation, synthesis, and analysis of information from scientific and technical sources (e.g., explaining central ideas, interpreting domain-specific terminology, recognizing how texts structure information into categories and hierarchies)." The state's framework also requires historical, geographic, and political science and economic literacy. The middle/secondary test for special education requires historical, geographical and political science and economic literacy, "including identifying purpose and main ideas, distinguishing between fact and opinion, interpreting information represented in diverse visual formats, and recognizing assumptions in [related] texts."

Missouri standards for K-12 special education teachers require the completion of nine semester hours of reading "to include instructional interventions for students with reading deficits." The early childhood special education test framework requires that teachers "understand how to promote the development of emergent concepts and skills in various areas of the curriculum in young children with disabilities," which is followed by the example: "demonstrate knowledge of strategies for promoting early literacy development in young children with disabilities, including young children who are English language learners."


Recommendations for Missouri

Require all elementary special education teacher candidates to pass a rigorous assessment in the science of reading instruction.
Missouri 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 new special education teachers are prepared to incorporate informational text of increasing complexity into classroom instruction.
Although Missouri is on the right track with its elementary and middle/secondary testing frameworks, which address 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. Missouri is encouraged to make certain that both frameworks capture the major instructional shifts of college- and career-readiness standards, thereby ensuring that all special education teacher candidates have the ability to adequately incorporate complex informational text into classroom instruction. Missouri should also ensure that candidates teaching the elementary grades on the early childhood certification have the ability to address the use of informational texts as well as incorporate complex informational texts into classroom instruction.

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, Missouri should—either through testing frameworks or teacher standards—specifically include literacy skills and using text to build content knowledge in history/social studies, science, technical subjects and the arts.

Support struggling readers.
Missouri should articulate 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

Missouri recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. However, this analysis was updated subsequent to the state's review.   The state added that special education candidate must take the course, Diagnostic Remedial of Reading Disabilities.

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.