Teaching Reading: North Carolina

2017 Special Education Teacher Preparation Policy

Goal

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.

Nearly meets

Analysis of North Carolina's policies

Scientifically Based Reading Instruction—Tests and Standards: All special education candidates in North Carolina have to pass the Pearson Foundations of Reading test. Teachers may have until their second year of teaching to earn a passing score on this test, provided they attempt to pass it during their first year.

Informational Texts: The Foundations of Reading assessment 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, which incorporates some of the instructional shifts in the use of text associated with North Carolina's college- and career-readiness standards for students. North Carolina also requires all special education teachers to pass the General Curriculum content 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)."

Literacy Skills: North Carolina's rubric for teacher candidate evaluation addresses incorporating literacy into all content areas. It requires elementary teachers to have "explicit and thorough preparation in literacy instruction" and middle school and secondary teachers to "incorporate literacy instruction within the content area or discipline." To be ranked proficient, candidates must be able to "integrate effective literacy instruction throughout the curriculum and across content areas to enhance students' learning."

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: "Understand vocabulary development."

Struggling Readers: Regarding struggling readers, the state's 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).
In addition, educator preparation standards require that elementary education teacher candidates are able to diagnose students with reading difficulties and apply:
  • "Instruction in evidence-based assessment and diagnosis of specific areas of difficulty with reading development and of reading deficiencies
  • Instruction in appropriate application of instructional supports and services and reading interventions to ensure reading proficiency for all students."


Citation

Recommendations for North Carolina

Ensure that the science of reading test is meaningful.
North Carolina should ensure that its required assessment is fully aligned with all five instructional components of scientifically based reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.

Ensure that new special education teachers are prepared to incorporate informational text of increasing complexity into classroom instruction.
Although North Carolina is on the right track by requiring 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 candidates are required to demonstrate knowledge of this information is unclear. NCTQ encourages North Carolina to make certain that its framework captures 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.

State response to our analysis

North Carolina was helpful in providing NCTQ with facts necessary for this analysis.

Updated: December 2017

How we graded

4B: Teaching Special Education Reading

  • Scientifically Based Reading Instruction: The state should require that all new special education teachers who teach elementary grades are required to pass a rigorous elementary test of scientifically based reading instruction. The design of the test should ensure that prospective teachers cannot pass without knowing the five scientifically based components of early reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. The state should require that all teacher preparation programs prepare elementary special education candidates in the science of reading instruction.
  • College- and Career-Readiness Standards: The state should ensure that all new special education teachers are sufficiently prepared for the ways that college- and career-readiness standards affect instruction in all subject areas. Specifically,
    • The state should ensure that all new special education teachers are prepared to incorporate informational texts of increasing complexity into instruction.
    • The state should ensure that all new special education teachers are prepared to incorporate literacy skills as an integral part of every subject.
    • The state should ensure that all new special education teachers are prepared to identify and support struggling readers.
Scientifically Based Reading Instruction
Three-quarters of the total goal score is earned based on the following:

  • Three-quarters credit: The state will earn three-quarters of a point if it requires all new special education teachers who will teach elementary grades to pass a rigorous test of scientifically based reading instruction. The design of the test must ensure that all prospective teachers are competent in the five research-based components of early reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.
  • One-quarter credit: The state will earn only one-quarter of a point if the teacher preparation standards for special education teachers address the five components of scientifically based reading instruction, but the state does not have an adequate - or any - scientifically based reading instruction test. 
College- and Career-Readiness Standards
One-quarter of the total goal score is earned based on the following:

  • One-quarter credit: The state will earn one-quarter of a point if the state tests or maintains standards to ensure that all new special education teachers are sufficiently prepared for how college- and career-ready standards affect instruction. The state must have at least one of the standards (outlined in component two) "fully addressed" and two "partially addressed" to earn credit.

Research rationale

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.[1]

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.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4]

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.[5] 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.[6] States should require no less from special education teachers in terms of preparation to teach reading than they require from general education teachers.[7]

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.[8] For special education teachers, preparation and training must focus on managing these instructional shifts while also helping students who may have serious reading deficiencies.


[1] Torgesen, J.K. (November 2005). Preventing reading disabilities in young children: Requirements at the classroom and school level. Western North Carolina LD/ADD Symposium. Retrieved from http://www.fcrr.org/science/pdf/torgesen/NC-interventions.pdf; Walsh, K., Glaser, D., & Wilcox, D. D. (2006). What education schools aren't teaching about reading and what elementary teachers aren't learning. National Council on Teacher Quality. Retrieved from http://www.nctq.org/nctq/images/nctq_reading_study_app.pdf
[2] National Reading Panel (US), National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (US). (2000). Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from https://www.nichd.nih.gov/publications/pubs/nrp/Documents/report.pdf; To review further indications of the affirmation of the previously-mentioned research, see: Foorman, B., Beyler, N., Borradaile, K., Coyne, M., Denton, C. A., Dimino, J., ... & Keating, B. (2016). Foundational skills to support reading for understanding in kindergarten through 3rd grade: Educator's practice guide. NCEE 2016-4008. National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance. Retrieved from https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/Docs/PracticeGuide/wwc_foundationalreading_040717.pdf
[3] Walsh, K., Glaser, D., & Wilcox, D. D. (2006). What education schools aren't teaching about reading and what elementary teachers aren't learning. National Council on Teacher Quality. Retrieved from http://www.nctq.org/nctq/images/nctq_reading_study_app.pdf; National Council on Teacher Quality. (2016, December). Landscapes in teacher prep: Undergraduate elementary education. National Council on Teacher Quality's Teacher Prep Review. Retrieved from http://www.nctq.org/dmsView/UE_2016_Landscape_653385_656245
[4] Stotsky, S. (2006). Why American students do not learn to read very well: The unintended consequences of Title II and teacher testing. Third Education Group Review, 2(2), 1-37. Retrieved from http://www.tegr.org/Review/Articles/vol2/v2n2.pdf; See also: Rigden, D. (2006). Report on licensure alignment with the essential components of effective reading instruction. National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, Reading First Teacher Education Network. Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.124.9956&rep=rep1&type=pdf; For information on where states set passing scores on elementary level content tests for teacher licensing across the U.S., see: National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Recommendations for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Retrieved from http://www.nctq.org/p/publications/docs/nctq_eseaReauthorization.pdf
[5] Wehman, P. (2002). A new era: Revitalizing special education for children and their families. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 17(4), 194-197. Retrieved from http://ectacenter.org/~pdfs/calls/2010/earlypartc/revitalizing_special_education.pdf
[6] Research also connects individual content knowledge with increased reading comprehension, making the capacity of the teacher to infuse all instruction with content of particular importance for student achievement. See: Willingham, D. T. (2006). How knowledge helps: It speeds and strengthens reading comprehension, learning, and thinking. American Educator, 30(1), 30. Retrieved from https://www.aft.org/newspubs/periodicals/ae/spring2006/willingham.cfm
[7] Levenson, N. (2011). Something has got to change: Rethinking special education (Working Paper 2011-01). American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED521782
[8] Student Achievement Partners. (2015). Research supporting the Common Core ELA/literacy shifts and standards. Retrieved from https://achievethecore.org/content/upload/Research%20Supporting%20the%20ELA%20Standards%20and%20Shifts%20Final.pdf