Elementary Teacher Preparation Policy
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.
Content Test Requirements: Virginia offers two licenses that cover both early childhood and elementary grades, the PreK-6 elementary license and the early/primary PreK-3 early childhood education license. Virginia requires candidates with either license to pass the Praxis II Elementary Education: Multiple Subjects test (5001). This test is comprised of four subtests with individual scores in math, reading and language arts, science and social studies. Candidates must pass each subtest to be eligible for licensure.
Scientifically Based Reading Instruction: As a condition of initial licensure, Virginia requires all early childhood teacher candidates to pass the Praxis II Reading for Virginia Educators Assessment, which addresses the five instructional components of scientifically based reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.
Informational Texts: The reading and language arts subtest of the Multiple Subjects 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. However, although the framework now also addresses complex texts, it does so only in the context of measuring text complexity and does not address how to also incorporate increasingly complex texts into instruction.
However, in Virginia's reading assessment, teachers are required to "understand reading comprehension strategies for nonfiction," which includes recognizing how to select and use various reading materials and how to use comprehension and instructional strategies that help students glean important information from texts such as main ideas and the author's purpose. Teachers must also be able to promote reading comprehension and help students "use evidence from a nonfiction text to support their predictions, opinions and conclusions."
Literacy Skills: Virginia's preparation standards for early childhood education teachers require teachers to be able to "demonstrate the ability to develop comprehension skills in all content areas." However, these standards are not specific enough to ensure that candidates are fully prepared to incorporate literacy skills across core content areas.
Struggling Readers: The testing framework for Virginia's reading test addresses struggling readers. Teachers are required to "recognize how to use diagnostic reading data to differentiate instruction to address the needs of students with reading difficulties." However, this test standard does not go far enough to ensure that teachers are fully prepared to identify and support struggling readers.
Praxis Tests www.ets.org/praxis June 27, 2013, Board Meeting Summary http://www.doe.virginia.gov/boe/meetings/2013/06_jun/summary.pdf Virginia Administrative Code 8 VAC 20-22-150, 8 VAC 20-542-100 Assessment Requirements for Virginia Licensure http://www.doe.virginia.gov/teaching/licensure/prof_teacher_assessment.pdf
Ensure that early childhood candidates who teach elementary grades are prepared to meet the instructional requirements of college- and career-readiness standards for students.
Incorporate informational text of increasing complexity into classroom instruction.
Virginia is on the right track with its Reading for Virginia Educators Assessment and revised Multiple Subjects test, which address knowledge of informational texts. However, neither framework appears to adequately capture all the major instructional shifts of college- and career-readiness standards. The state is therefore encouraged to strengthen its teacher preparation requirements and ensure that all early childhood candidates who are licensed to teach elementary grades have the ability to adequately incorporate complex informational text into classroom instruction.
Incorporate literacy skills as an integral part of every subject.
To ensure that elementary students are capable of accessing varied information about the world around them, Virginia should more specifically include literacy skills and using text to build content knowledge in all core subjects. This could be accomplished either through testing frameworks or teacher standards.
Virginia was helpful in providing NCTQ with facts necessary for this analysis.
2D: Elementary Licensure Deficiencies
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. 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, states would put students at risk by not holding all elementary teachers to equivalent standards. 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. 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.