Special Education Preparation in Reading: New

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.

Nearly meets goal
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2015). Special Education Preparation in Reading: New York results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/NY-Special-Education-Preparation-in-Reading-69

Analysis of New York's policies

New York requires special education teachers applying for the 1-6 generalist certificate to pass the New York State Teacher Certification Examination (NYSTCE) Elementary multi-subject content specialty test, which has a separately scored science of reading subtest. 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 goes further than most states to ensure that special education teacher candidates are prepared for the key instructional shifts that differentiate college- and career-readiness standards from previous student standards. The state requires special education candidates at every grade level to take a multi-subject exam geared toward early childhood, elementary, middle or secondary grade level.  

According to each testing framework, teachers must "demonstrate knowledge of characteristics, elements, and features of a range of text types in informational text from a broad range of cultures and periods, including literary nonfiction (e.g., biographies and autobiographies), books about history, social studies, science, and the arts; and technical texts (e.g., directions, forms; information displayed in graphs, charts, maps; digital sources)." 

The frameworks also address "text complexity and instruction in text comprehension" and outlines performance indicators that incorporate the instructional shifts in the use of text associated with New York's college- and career-readiness standards for students. It also outlines performance indicators relating to "instruction in reading literature and informational text."

The NYSTCE Multi-Subject: Secondary Teachers assessment required of special education teachers in grades 7-12 contains competencies that address "instruction in reading informational text" and includes performance indicators relating to these shifts. 

All multi-subject tests address struggling readers with the following performance indicator: "selects and describes accurately and appropriately effective strategies, activities, or interventions to address a student's identified need ... in reading, writing, listening, speaking, language knowledge and conventions, and/or vocabulary acquisition."


Recommendations for New York

Ensure that new special education teachers are prepared to incorporate literacy skills as an integral part of every subject.
To ensure that all special education students are capable of accessing varied information about the world around them, New York should expand its already strong policy and include specific requirements for all special education teachers—either through testing frameworks or teacher standards—regarding literacy skills and using text as a means to build content knowledge in history/social studies, science, technical subjects and the arts.

State response to our analysis

New York stated that all newly certified teachers in NYS are required to pass a suite of exams for certification. These exams include the following: Educating All Students Test, Academic Literacy Skills Test, a Content Specialty Test (CST) and an edTPA. Special Education teachers in NYS are required to complete two CSTs, the Multi-Subject CST and the Students with Disabilities CST.

According to the state, within the Students with Disabilities CST, a test taker is expected to apply his or her knowledge of research- or evidence-based explicit and systematic instruction and intervention in reading for students with disabilities, including reading in the content area.

New York added that its special education teachers must also take the Special Education edTPA,  and within the edTPA framework for Special Education there is an additional emphasis on literacy. In addition, the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity (SCALE) has created guidance specifically for the Special education candidate entitled Making Good Choices in Special Education.

Within the edTPA framework the candidate must identify a primary learning target. The primary learning target for a focus learner with academic learning needs is academic. Academic content includes general academic curriculum, functional academics, and early literacy/numeracy and  is further defined as follows:
1)General academic curriculum is the same curriculum as that established for students without
2) Functional academics are composed of academic skills needed for independence in everyday
life. This includes skills in traditional content areas: reading, writing, math, social studies and
science. See the definition in the glossary of the handbook for examples in each of these areas.

3) "Early literacy … [refers to] the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that precede learning to read
and write in the primary grades (K-3)” (Roskos, Christie, & Richgels, 2003), including “[developing] alphabet knowledge, phonological awareness, letter writing, print knowledge, and oral language” (National Institute for Literacy, 2009).

4) "Early numeracy represents a collection of skills that develop during the pre-kindergarten years
including number and operations, geometry, measurement, patterns and algebra, and data
analysis and classification”(Wackerle-Hollman, 2014).

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.