The state should ensure that new teachers who can teach elementary grades on an early childhood license possess sufficient content knowledge in all core subjects and know the science of reading instruction. This goal was consistent between 2015 and 2017.
Content Test Requirements: In Nebraska, early childhood education teachers may either earn a PreK-3 and an elementary education K-6 endorsement, or they may earn an Early Childhood Education Inclusive endorsement, which means they are licensed to teach elementary grades through grade 3. Candidates who complete the K-6 endorsement are
required to pass the same Praxis II test Elementary Education: Curriculum, Instruction
and Assessment (5017) as elementary candidates, in addition to the Education of Young Children (5024) test. Neither of these tests is a content test. Candidates applying for the Early Childhood Inclusive endorsement are only required to take the Education of Young Children test, which is not a content test.
Scientifically Based Reading Instruction: As a condition of initial licensure, Nebraska does not require its early childhood candidates to pass a reading test addressing the five instructional components of scientifically based reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.
Informational Texts: The Elementary Education test incorporates some of the instructional shifts in the use of text associated with college- and career-readiness standards for students. The Education of Young Children test incorporates some of these instructional shifts as well. However, the test components that address these new standards are based on revised tests that incorporate college- and career-readiness standards, and candidates can choose between these versions and older test versions that do not address these standards.
Literacy Skills: The Education of Young Children test vaguely addresses literacy skills in other core areas by requiring a teacher to know "strategies to integrate literacy into the content areas (e.g., mathematics, social studies, science, and the arts)." The elementary test requires that a teacher "knows how to make connections within reading and language arts topics, across other disciplines, and in real-world contexts." However, these test standards are not sufficient to ensure that teachers include literacy skills across the core content areas.
Struggling Readers: Nebraska's elementary content test also only indirectly addresses struggling readers by requiring that a teacher "knows how to design and use formative assessments to adjust instruction." With regard to struggling readers, the Education of Young Children test indirectly addresses the topic by requiring that a teacher "knows how to collect, analyze and interpret observation and assessment results to inform instructional decision making."
Require early childhood teacher candidates to pass a subject-matter test designed to ensure sufficient content knowledge of all subjects.
Nebraska should require all early childhood teacher candidates who teach the elementary grades to pass a content test with separate passing scores for each of the core subject areas, including reading/language arts, mathematics, science and social studies. Although the state requires appropriate testing for elementary teachers teaching on an elementary certificate, Nebraska creates a significant loophole by not holding early childhood teachers who teach elementary grades to the same requirements. The state's current practice of allowing teachers up through grade 3 to teach without ever having passed a content test is particularly worrisome and should be amended.
Require all teacher candidates who teach elementary grades to pass a rigorous assessment in the science of reading instruction.
Nebraska should require a rigorous reading assessment tool to ensure that its early childhood 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. Early childhood teachers who do not possess the minimum knowledge in this area should not be eligible for licensure.
Ensure that early childhood teachers are prepared to meet the instructional requirements of college- and career-readiness standards for students.
Incorporate informational text of increasing complexity into classroom instruction.
Although Nebraska's Praxis II Education of Young Children (5024) assessment addresses some knowledge of informational texts, the framework does not appear to capture the major instructional shifts of college- and career-readiness standards. However, the state is encouraged to strengthen its teacher preparation requirements and ensure that all candidates who teach the elementary grades have the ability to address the use of informational texts as well as to incorporate complex informational texts into classroom instruction.
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, Nebraska 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.
Support struggling readers.
Nebraska should articulate more specific requirements ensuring that all candidates who teach elementary grades are prepared to intervene and support students who are struggling. The early elementary grades are an especially important time to address reading deficiencies before students fall behind.
Nebraska recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. However, the state strongly asserted that it continues to disagree with NCTQ's analysis that does not recognize Nebraska's Guidelines to which all institutions are held accountable. Based on the NCTQ
standard, the criteria used, and the standards for acceptable documentation, Nebraska concedes that the analysis is factually accurate.
Despite Nebraska's indication that all teacher preparation programs are held accountable to the Rule 24 guidelines, the cover of the document explicitly states that the guidelines "are suggestions only," and that program approval is dependent only on criteria in Rule 24 itself, not the guidelines. This is the basis for NCTQ's exclusion of the guidelines from the analysis.
2D: Elementary Licensure Deficiencies
Early childhood teachers who teach elementary grades must be ready for the demands of the elementary classroom. Many states have early childhood licenses that include some elementary classroom grades, usually up to grade three. Because teachers with this early childhood license can still teach many elementary grades, they should not be held to a lower bar for subject-matter knowledge than if they held more standard elementary licenses. Given the focus on building students' content knowledge and vocabulary in college- and career-readiness standards, states would put students at risk by not holding all elementary teachers to equivalent standards. That is not to say the license requirements must be identical; there are certainly different focuses in terms of child development and pedagogy. But the idea that content knowledge is only needed by upper-grade elementary teachers is clearly false.
Focus on reading instruction is especially critical for early childhood teachers. Although some states do not ensure that any elementary teachers know the science of how to teach young children to read, in the states where this is a priority, it is inexcusable to hold elementary teachers on an early childhood license to a lower standard. Research is clear that the best defense against reading failure is effective early reading instruction. Therefore, if such licenses are neglecting to meet the needs of the early elementary classroom, of which learning to read is paramount, they are failing to meet one of their most fundamental purposes.