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: Virginia requires its special education teachers to pass the Praxis Reading for Virginia Educators Assessment, which addresses all five instructional components of scientifically based reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. The reading test also requires teachers to "understand reading comprehension strategies for nonfiction."
Virginia's preparation standards for special education programs also address five components of scientifically based reading instruction.
Informational Texts: Virginia teacher preparation requirements incorporate some of the instructional shifts associated with the state's college- and career-readiness standards for students. The Praxis II Reading for Virginia Educators Assessment requires teachers to "understand reading comprehension strategies for nonfiction," which includes the following: recognizing how to select and use a variety of nonfiction texts and utilizing different comprehension and instructional strategies to clarify students' understanding of the text.
Literacy Skills: Virginia has no requirements for the preparation of elementary or secondary special education teachers that address the use of informational texts or incorporating literacy skills into core content areas.
Struggling Readers: The testing framework for Virginia's reading test also 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 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 Virginia Administrative Code 8 VAC 20-22-540 Regulations Governing the Review and Approval of Education Programs. Section 480 http://law.lis.virginia.gov/admincode/title8/agency20/chapter542/section480/ Assessment Requirements http://www.doe.virginia.gov/teaching/licensure/prof_teacher_assessment.pdf
Ensure that new special education teachers are prepared to incorporate literacy skills as an integral part of every subject.
To ensure that special education students are capable of accessing varied information about the world around them, Virginia should also—either through testing frameworks or teacher standards—include literacy skills and using text to build content knowledge in history/social studies, science, technical subjects and the arts.
Support struggling readers.
Virginia should articulate more specific requirements ensuring that all special education teachers are prepared to intervene and support students who are struggling with reading. With reading difficulties generally representing the primary reason for special education placements, it is essential that all special education teachers have the knowledge and skills to diagnose and support students with literacy needs.
Virginia was helpful in providing NCTQ with facts that enhanced this analysis.
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.