The state should ensure that new elementary teachers know the science of reading instruction.
By May 1, 2014, all elementary teacher candidates in New York will be required to pass the newly designed NYSTCE multisubject elementary exam as a condition of initial licensure. This test includes a separately scored English language arts/literacy section. It addresses all five instructional components of scientifically based reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension, and it amounts to a stand-alone reading test.
New York also requires all early childhood education candidates to pass a content test with a separately scored English language arts/literacy section. It, too, amounts to a stand-alone reading test.
Ensure that the science of reading test is meaningful.
To ensure that its science of reading test is meaningful, New York should evaluate its passing score to make certain it reflects a high standard of performance.
New York pointed out that as the first administration of the new tests becomes available beginning fall 2013, the state will initiate the process of standard setting. Like all educational assessments, these new tests will be used to make decisions that categorize test takers based on their performance. This involves classifying the test takers as "pass" or "fail." Standard setting is the process where achievement level descriptions are established in order to define what candidates should know and be able to do to achieve a passing score (i.e., cut-scores). For New York State Teacher Certification Examinations, standard setting panels are made up of a diverse group of certified teachers and higher educators.
New York added that these cut-scores will present a new and transparent baseline from which it can measure the progress and preparedness of its new educators. While the state can anticipate that the number of individuals with passing scores will be lower on these new, more rigorous tests, it understands that this is a new starting point. These tests will give a clearer picture of where future educators stand in terms of their ability to fully implement the Regents Reform Agenda and the New York State P-12 Common Core Learning Standards as they prepare students for college and career.
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, still caught up in the reading wars, 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, 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 ensure that their preparation programs graduate only teacher candidates who know how to teach children to read.
Most current reading tests do not offer assurance that teachers know the science of reading.
A growing number of states, such as Massachusetts, Connecticut and Virginia, require strong, stand-alone assessments entirely focused on the science of reading. Other states rely on either pedagogy tests or content tests that include items on reading instruction. However, since reading instruction is addressed only in one small part of most of these tests, it is often not necessary to know the science of reading to pass. States need to make sure that a teacher candidate cannot pass a test that purportedly covers reading instruction without knowing the critical material.
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).