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: Tennessee requires special education teachers to pass the Praxis II Teaching Reading: Elementary Education (5203) test. 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.
Tennessee also allows teachers to delay passage of content and pedagogy tests if they possess a bachelor's degree in a core content area.
In its reading standards pertaining to what special education teachers must know, Tennessee also requires teacher preparation programs to address the science of reading.
Informational Texts: Special education 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:
Praxis Tests www.ets.org/praxis Tennessee State Board of Education Policy 5.105; 5.502 Appendix A and Policy 5.504
Monitor new reading assessment to ensure adequacy and rigor.
Tennessee should monitor its assessment to make sure it is a rigorous and appropriate measure of teachers' knowledge of and skill in scientifically based early reading instruction, as the track record of Praxis assessments in this regard is mixed at best. Specifically, Tennessee should re-evaluate its use of the Praxis II Teaching Reading (5203) assessment. A more rigorous and appropriate measure of teachers' knowledge of and skill in scientifically based early reading instruction is the Praxis II Teaching Reading (5204) assessment. To ensure that the test is meaningful, Tennessee should also evaluate its passing score to make certain it reflects a high standard of performance.
Tennessee provided that new policy allows teachers to delay passage of content and pedagogy tests if they possess a bachelor's degree in a core content area. According to the state, the purpose of the policy is to allow flexibility for educators coming from out-of-state or educators who are enrolling in job-embedded programs. The department will issue a license in cases where the content knowledge of the educator is verified by the educator preparation program. The only alternative to passing a test of content knowledge is having a major in the content area. This comment applies to all related to goals.
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.