Licensure Deficiencies: Tennessee

Elementary Teacher Preparation Policy

Goal

The state should ensure that new teachers who are licensed to teach elementary grades under an early childhood license demonstrate sufficient content knowledge in all core subjects and know the science of reading instruction. This goal has been revised since 2017.

Meets a small part
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2020). Licensure Deficiencies: Tennessee results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/TN-Licensure-Deficiencies-90

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 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 Teaching Reading: Elementary Education (5204) test.

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

Provisional and Emergency Licensure: Because provisional and emergency licensure requirements are scored in Provisional and Emergency Licensure, only the test requirements for the state's initial license are considered as part of this goal.

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 a core content test. 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.

Require all teacher candidates who teach elementary grades to pass a rigorous assessment in the science of reading instruction.
Tennessee 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.

State response to our analysis

Tennessee indicated that educators who are enrolled in a program with a job-embedded clinical practice may "allow teachers to delay passage of content tests if they possess a bachelor's degree in a core content area." According to the state, review of the last three years of candidates completing preparation programs in Tennessee, showed that roughly 27% went through a job-embedded program and a smaller percentage of this group delayed passage of the content assessments by holding a degree with a major in the content area.

Over the last two years, the department has engaged in a process to require all EPPs to revise content of nearly all endorsement programs to meet the expectations of the literacy standards adopted by the state board of education in 2017. Additional details regarding this process can be found at the link provided.  

Updated: February 2020

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.
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 content tests as elementary teachers that contain four or more separately scored content exams to ensure appropriate content knowledge in all core academic subject areas.
  • 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 test does not contain four separately scored tests. 
  • OR
  • The state will earn one-quarter of a point if it requires an early childhood test with at least two separately scored content exams to ensure appropriate content knowledge in core academic subjects. Both exams must result in a score for one core content area each.

Scientifically Based Reading Instruction
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 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.
  • One-quarter credit: The state will earn one-quarter of a point if it requires all new early childhood teachers to pass a stand-alone reading test of scientifically based reading instruction, but the test includes content not aligned to scientifically based reading instruction. 
  • One-quarter credit: The state will earn one-quarter of a point if early childhood teacher preparation standards address the five components of scientifically based reading instruction, but the state does not require an adequate - or any - scientifically based reading instruction test.

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