Special Education Teacher Preparation Policy
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.
Scientifically Based Reading Instruction—Tests and Standards: New York requires candidates applying for the Students with Disabilities (Birth-Grade 2) or Students with Disabilities (Grades 1-6) certificates must pass the New York State Teacher Certification Examination (NYSTCE) Multi-Subject: Teachers of Early Childhood (Birth-Grade 2) or Multi-Subject: Teachers of Childhood (Grade 1- Grade 6) test, respectively. Both of these tests have a separately scored English/language arts subtest. However, these subtests do not address the science of reading and therefore does not amount to stand-alone reading test.
New York's early childhood and elementary special education standards do not address the science of reading instruction.
Informational Texts: 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.
Literacy Skills: New York has no requirements for the preparation of elementary or secondary special education teachers that address the incorporation of literacy skills into the core content areas.
Struggling Readers: All of New York's NYSTCE 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."
NYSTCE Test Frameworks http://www.nystce.nesinc.com/NY_viewSG_opener.asp Regulations of the Commissioner of Education, Part 52.21, 52.21(b)(3)(vi) Multiple Subjects Framework http://www.nystce.nesinc.com/PDFs/NY241_242_245_OBJ_DRAFT.pdf
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, New York 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.
New York stated that it prepares Teachers of Students with Disabilities candidates in three age/grade levels: Birth grade 2, grades 1-6, and grades 7-12. The state requires candidates to complete at least six semester hours in language acquisition and literacy development by native English speakers and students who are English language learners, and in developing the listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills of all students. In addition, New York noted that programs must prepare candidates with a knowledge base for assisting students at the age/grade level of their certification in meeting the State student learning standards, which are the New York State P-12 Common Core Learning Standards.
New York referenced its responses to Goals 2-C: Elementary Reading, 2-D: Elementary Licensure Deficiencies, and 3-C: Adolescent Literacy to describe how elementary and secondary teachers, including Teachers of Students with Disabilities at these grade levels, address the incorporation of literacy skills into the core content areas. The state added that programs preparing candidates to teach students with disabilities in grades 7-12 must ensure that within the course of study the candidates have completed a minimum of six semester hours in mathematics, English language arts, social studies and science and have sufficient pedagogical skills to teach these subjects.
In addition, New York cited Competency 002 from the Educating All Students Test required for certification: Competency 0002 - English Language Learners states that, "The New York State educator understands the characteristics, strengths, and needs of English Language Learners and effectively uses this knowledge to assist in developing their language and literacy skills and promoting their achievement of learning standards in all content areas," and
New York is commended for its literacy standards for students. However, there is not a clear relationship between what students are expected to know and how teachers are prepared to ensure that they are able to teach students to these standards. The Commissioner's Regulations stating that programs shall "include a requirement that the candidate complete study in the subject(s) to be taught which shall prepare candidates with the knowledge base to teach the subject(s), in accordance with the State learning standards for students." is not enough to ensure that New York's teacher preparation programs will adequately prepare teachers to instruct to these learning standards.
4B: Teaching Special Education Reading
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.
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. 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. 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.
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. States should require no less from special education teachers in terms of preparation to teach reading than they require from general education teachers.
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. For special education teachers, preparation and training must focus on managing these instructional shifts while also helping students who may have serious reading deficiencies.