Teaching Reading: Tennessee

2017 Special Education Teacher Preparation Policy

Goal

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.

Meets in part

Analysis of Tennessee's policies

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.

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:

  • 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 to 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: Tennessee has requirements for the preparation of elementary or secondary special education teachers that address the incorporation of literacy skills into the core content areas. Early childhood education preparation standards require candidates to be able to teach students how to: "integrate foundational skills and strategies within authentic reading and writing contexts; and make connections to reading and writing across the disciplines."

New literacy standards in Tennessee also require middle and secondary candidates to "demonstrate a deep understanding of the essential role literacy plays in equipping students to acquire, comprehend, and communicate content-specific information." Candidates are required to be able to demonstrate an understanding of content-specific "literacy skills and strategies, and how they apply to content-specific instruction and learning for K-12 students," and "academic vocabulary and demonstrate the ability to communicate using vocabulary accurately and effectively."

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 all special education 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

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.

State response to our analysis

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.

"Literacy Skills Tennessee 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. Early childhood education preparation standards require candidates to be able to teach students how to: "integrate foundational skills and strategies within authentic reading and writing contexts; and make connections to reading and writing across the disciplines."

Tennessee noted that the above information will soon be out-of-date. The state anticipates that the Board will adopt literacy standards for almost all endorsement areas, including K-8 intervention, 6-12 interventionist, K-12 comprehensive, as well as several others.

Updated: December 2017

How we graded

4B: Teaching Special Education Reading

  • Scientifically Based Reading Instruction: The state should require that all new special education teachers who teach elementary grades are required to pass a rigorous elementary 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. The state should require that all teacher preparation programs prepare elementary special education candidates in the science of reading instruction.
  • College- and Career-Readiness Standards: The state should ensure that all new special education teachers are sufficiently prepared for the ways that college- and career-readiness standards affect instruction in all subject areas. Specifically,
    • The state should ensure that all new special education teachers are prepared to incorporate informational texts of increasing complexity into instruction.
    • The state should ensure that all new special education teachers are prepared to incorporate literacy skills as an integral part of every subject.
    • The state should ensure that all new special education teachers are prepared to identify and support struggling readers.
Scientifically Based Reading Instruction
Three-quarters of the total goal score is earned based on the following:

  • Three-quarters credit: The state will earn three-quarters of a point if it requires all new special education teachers who will teach elementary grades 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 only one-quarter of a point if the teacher preparation standards for special education teachers address the five components of scientifically based reading instruction, but the state does not have an adequate - or any - scientifically based reading instruction test. 
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 the state tests or maintains standards to ensure that all new special education teachers are sufficiently prepared for how college- and career-ready standards affect instruction. The state must have at least one of the standards (outlined in component two) "fully addressed" and two "partially addressed" to earn credit.

Research rationale

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.[1]

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.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4]

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.[5] 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.[6] States should require no less from special education teachers in terms of preparation to teach reading than they require from general education teachers.[7]

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.[8] For special education teachers, preparation and training must focus on managing these instructional shifts while also helping students who may have serious reading deficiencies.


[1] Torgesen, J.K. (November 2005). Preventing reading disabilities in young children: Requirements at the classroom and school level. Western North Carolina LD/ADD Symposium. Retrieved from http://www.fcrr.org/science/pdf/torgesen/NC-interventions.pdf; 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
[2] National Reading Panel (US), National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (US). (2000). Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from https://www.nichd.nih.gov/publications/pubs/nrp/Documents/report.pdf; To review further indications of the affirmation of the previously-mentioned research, see: Foorman, B., Beyler, N., Borradaile, K., Coyne, M., Denton, C. A., Dimino, J., ... & Keating, B. (2016). Foundational skills to support reading for understanding in kindergarten through 3rd grade: Educator's practice guide. NCEE 2016-4008. National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance. Retrieved from https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/Docs/PracticeGuide/wwc_foundationalreading_040717.pdf
[3] 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; National Council on Teacher Quality. (2016, December). Landscapes in teacher prep: Undergraduate elementary education. National Council on Teacher Quality's Teacher Prep Review. Retrieved from http://www.nctq.org/dmsView/UE_2016_Landscape_653385_656245
[4] Stotsky, S. (2006). Why American students do not learn to read very well: The unintended consequences of Title II and teacher testing. Third Education Group Review, 2(2), 1-37. Retrieved from http://www.tegr.org/Review/Articles/vol2/v2n2.pdf; See also: Rigden, D. (2006). Report on licensure alignment with the essential components of effective reading instruction. National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, Reading First Teacher Education Network. Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.124.9956&rep=rep1&type=pdf; For information on where states set passing scores on elementary level content tests for teacher licensing across the U.S., see: National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Recommendations for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Retrieved from http://www.nctq.org/p/publications/docs/nctq_eseaReauthorization.pdf
[5] Wehman, P. (2002). A new era: Revitalizing special education for children and their families. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 17(4), 194-197. Retrieved from http://ectacenter.org/~pdfs/calls/2010/earlypartc/revitalizing_special_education.pdf
[6] 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. See: 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/newspubs/periodicals/ae/spring2006/willingham.cfm
[7] Levenson, N. (2011). Something has got to change: Rethinking special education (Working Paper 2011-01). American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED521782
[8] 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