Licensure Deficiencies: Tennessee

2017 Elementary Teacher Preparation Policy

Goal

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.

Meets in part

Analysis of Tennessee's policies

Content Test Requirements: Tennessee's early childhood education teachers, who are licensed to teach elementary grades through grade 3, are required to pass two assessments: the Praxis II Elementary Education: Content Knowledge (5018) test, which does not report separate subscores in the core content areas of language arts, math, science or social studies; and the Education of Young Children (5024) test, which is not a content test.

Tennessee allows teachers to delay passage of content and pedagogy tests if they possess a bachelor's degree in a core content area.

Scientifically Based Reading Instruction—Tests and Standards: Tennessee requires all elementary teacher candidates to pass the Praxis Teaching Reading: Elementary Education (5203) test as a condition of initial licensure. Although the test framework contains the five instructional components of scientifically based reading instruction— phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension— they are addressed much less explicitly than in the Praxis II Teaching Reading: Elementary Education (5204) test.

In its reading standards pertaining to what elementary teachers must know, Tennessee also requires teacher preparation programs to address the science of reading.

Informational Texts: Elementary teacher candidates must be prepared for the key instructional shifts related to literacy that differentiate college- and career-readiness standards from their predecessors. The Praxis Teaching Reading: Elementary Education test—under the heading "reading comprehension strategies across text types"— requires teachers to know "how to select and use a variety of informational, descriptive, and persuasive materials at appropriate reading levels to promote students' comprehension of nonfiction, including content-area texts." The reading and language arts subtest of the Elementary Education: Content Knowledge test includes some of the instructional shifts toward building content knowledge and vocabulary through careful reading of informational and literary texts associated with these standards.

Tennessee's new literacy standards address measuring text complexity and how to incorporate increasingly complex texts into instruction. For example, teacher candidates must be able to prepare students to:

  • Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently recognize various text structures and employ specific comprehension strategies based on the unique demands of the text structure and organization
  • Produce texts representing a range of text types (genre) and complexity for different purposes and audiences.
  • Analyze texts for complexity, quality, and alignment with instructional goals and student readiness; select a wide range of appropriately complex texts.
  • Engage and support students in reading a wide range of complex texts in print, digital, and multiple media
Literacy Skills: In its standards for elementary teachers, Tennessee requires that candidates "teach reading within the context of every subject area in such manner as to build vocabulary, background knowledge and strong comprehension strategies." In addition, new literacy standard require elementary candidates to be able to prepare students to:
  • Integrate foundational skills and strategies within authentic reading and writing contexts
  • Make connections to reading and writing across the disciplines."
Struggling Readers: Tennessee's Teaching Reading: Elementary Education test addresses the needs of struggling readers by requiring candidates to know "how diagnostic reading data are used to differentiate instruction to address the needs of students with difficulties." Teacher preparation standards also require candidates to be able to "differentiate good readers from poor readers in light of those characteristics and apply that knowledge to effective intervention strategies for all readers."

The state's literacy standards also require candidates to be able to:
  • Provide differentiated instruction that supports students' strengths while addressing their instructional needs
  • Describe how literacy assessment connects to and supports planning appropriate and differentiated instruction within the classroom and within the RTI framework.
  • Select and implement literacy assessment and evaluation tools appropriately and for different purposes (e.g., screening, diagnostic, curriculum based, progress monitoring, formative or benchmark, and summative or outcome) to inform literacy instruction and intervention.
Tennessee defines dyslexia as a "specific learning disability" and requires K-12 educators to receive training for teaching students with dyslexia "using appropriate scientific research and brain-based multi-sensory intervention methods and strategies."

Citation

Recommendations for Tennessee

Require all early childhood candidates who are eligible to teach elementary grades to pass a subject-matter test designed to ensure sufficient content knowledge of all subjects.
Tennessee should require all early childhood education teacher candidates who teach elementary grades to pass an elementary content test appropriately aligned with its college- and career-readiness standards. Although requiring a content test is a step in the right direction, the state should require separate, meaningful passing scores for each core subject covered on the test, including reading/language arts, mathematics, science and social studies. The state's current practice of using a composite passing score offers no assurance of adequate knowledge in each subject area and therefore fails to ensure that a candidate who achieves a passing score has the necessary subject-matter knowledge to teach a particular subject area.

State response to our analysis

Tennessee recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis, and was helpful in providing NCTQ with facts necessary to the analysis. 

Updated: December 2017

How we graded

2D: Elementary Licensure Deficiencies

  • Adequate Content Knowledge: The state should ensure that all new elementary teacher candidates teaching under an early childhood license possess sufficient elementary content knowledge in all core subjects, including mathematics.
  • Scientifically Based Reading Instruction: The state should ensure that all new elementary teacher candidates teaching under an early childhood license are required to pass a rigorous 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.
  • College- and Career-Readiness Standards: The state should ensure that all new elementary teachers teaching under an early childhood license are sufficiently prepared for the ways that college- and career-readiness standards affect instruction in all subject areas. Specifically,
    • The state should ensure that these early childhood education teachers are prepared to incorporate informational texts of increasing complexity into instruction.
    • The state should ensure that these early childhood education teachers are prepared to incorporate literacy skills as an integral part of every subject.
    • The state should ensure that these early childhood education teachers are prepared to identify and support struggling readers.
Adequate Content Knowledge
One-half of the total goal score is earned based on the following:

  • One-half credit: The state will earn one-half of a point if it requires early childhood teachers to pass the same individually scored content tests as elementary teachers.
  • One-quarter credit: The state will earn one-quarter of a point if it requires early childhood teachers to pass the same content tests as elementary teachers, but the content tests are not individually scored.
Scientifically Based Reading Instruction
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 it requires all new early childhood teachers 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.
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 its elementary teacher preparation tests or standards address the three components of college- and career-readiness standards. To earn credit, states must have at least one component "fully addressed" and two "partially addressed."

Research rationale

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.[1] 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,[2] states would put students at risk by not holding all elementary teachers to equivalent standards.[3] 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.[4] 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.


[1] National Council on Teacher Quality. (2016, June). Some assembly required: Piecing together the preparation preschool teachers need. Retrieved from http://www.nctq.org/dmsView/Preschool
[2] 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
[3] Numerous research studies have established the strong relationship between teachers' vocabulary (a proxy for being broadly educated) and student achievement. For example: Wayne, A. J., & Youngs, P. (2003). Teacher characteristics and student achievement gains: A review. Review of Educational Research, 73(1), 89-122.; See also: Whitehurst, G. J. (2002, March). Scientifically based research on teacher quality: Research on teacher preparation and professional development. In White House Conference on Preparing Tomorrow's Teacher.; Ehrenberg, R. G., & Brewer, D. J. (1995). Did teachers' verbal ability and race matter in the 1960s? Coleman revisited. Economics of Education Review, 14(1), 1-21.; 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.; 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/periodical/american-educator/spring-2006/how-knowledge-helps
[4] Torgesen, J.K. (November 2005). Preventing reading disabilities in young children: Requirements at the classroom and school level. Presented at the Western North Carolina LD/ADD Symposium.; 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