Elementary Teacher Preparation in Reading
Instruction: Vermont

Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy


The state should ensure that new elementary teachers know the science of reading instruction and are prepared for the instructional shifts related to literacy associated with college-and career-readiness standards.

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Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2015). Elementary Teacher Preparation in Reading Instruction: Vermont results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/VT-Elementary-Teacher-Preparation-in-Reading-Instruction-69

Analysis of Vermont's policies

Although Vermont requires elementary teacher candidates to pass the Praxis II Multiple Subjects (5001) test, which includes reading as a topic, this assessment does not generate a separate reading score and therefore does not amount to an adequate stand alone reading test. Further, although better than previous Praxis tests, the Multiple Subjects test does not appear to be fully aligned with scientifically based reading instruction. 

In its standards for elementary teacher preparation, Vermont requires teacher preparation programs to address the science of reading. Programs must provide training in the five instructional components of scientifically based reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.

Elementary teacher candidates must be prepared for the key instructional shifts related to literacy that differentiate college- and career-readiness standards from their predecessors. Vermont's standards for elementary teachers incorporate the instructional shifts in the use of text associated with the state's college- and career-readiness standards for students. The standards require knowledge of "the quantitative and qualitative dimensions used to measure text complexity levels; [and] text structures, genre features, and critical reading strategies for text analysis." These standards also require understanding the following:

  • Typical elements and features of literature and informational texts (i.e., arguments, primary sources, secondary sources) and how readers' awareness of these features supports comprehension
  • Characteristics of quality writing and types of writing, including narratives, informational text (e.g., procedures, experiments) and arguments focused on domain specific content.
Vermont's English language arts performance standards require that an elementary teacher "uses multiple metrics to purposefully select a wide variety of quality, age-appropriate literature—including complex text—across genres, eras, perspectives, cultures, and subcultures; [and] selects and reads quality literature and informational text aloud and applies critical thinking skills and tools of analysis to facilitate discussions of central themes and ideas within."

Performance standards require a teacher to be able to do the following: 
  • Provide explicit instruction on how to flexibly use pre-, during, and post-reading cognitive and metacognitive strategies to understand, analyze and interpret a variety of types of texts, including complex text
  • Provide opportunities for students to respond to literature and informational text orally and in writing and cite evidence from text to support conclusions
  • Use exemplars as instructional models for all types of composition (i.e., creative/narrative, informational/expository and argumentative).

Vermont's social studies standards for elementary teachers also address informational texts: The teacher "[i]ncorporates instructional activities that enable children to make connections among themselves, their classroom, their community, their environment, and the larger world by sharing and experiencing community-based service, by exploring content and texts that represent the varied perspectives of people currently and historically, by participating in the arts, and by reading informational texts."

Vermont has no requirements for the preparation of elementary teachers that address struggling readers.


Recommendations for Vermont

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

Vermont should require a rigorous reading assessment tool to ensure that its elementary teacher 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. Elementary teachers who do not possess the minimum knowledge in this area should not be eligible for licensure.

Ensure that new elementary teachers are prepared to 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, Vermont should expand its requirements to include literacy skills and using text to build content knowledge in history/social studies, science, technical subjects and the arts. Although the state mentions informational texts in its social studies standards, the wording does not reflect the major instructional shift from getting students to explore content through personal experiences and prior knowledge to actually gaining information critically through text. 

Support struggling readers. 
Vermont should articulate more specific requirements ensuring that elementary teachers are prepared to intervene and support students who are struggling. The early elementary grades are an especially important time to address reading deficiencies before students fall behind.

State response to our analysis

Vermont stated that while the Praxis II Multiple Subjects (5001) test does not provide a separate reading score, it does have a unique score for language arts. The state indicated that Vermont has adopted the Common Core State Standards for language arts and math, and that using literacy skills to gain content-area information through texts is central to language arts instruction.

Research rationale

Reading science has identified five components of effective instruction.
Teaching children to read is the most important task teachers 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. NCTQ's reports 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 2013 and 2014, 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 a license to new elementary teachers who can demonstrate they have the knowledge and skills to teach children to read.

Most current reading tests do not offer assurance that teachers know the science of reading.
A growing number of states, such as Massachusetts, Connecticut and Virginia, require strong, stand-alone assessments entirely focused on the science of reading. Other states rely on either pedagogy tests or content tests that include items on reading instruction. However, since reading instruction is addressed only in one small part of most of these tests, it is often not necessary to know the science of reading to pass. States need to make sure that a teacher candidate cannot pass a test that purportedly covers reading instruction without knowing the critical material.

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 a 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 text. While most states have not ignored teachers' need for training and professional development related to these instructional shifts, few states have attended 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. 
Elementary Teacher Preparation in Reading Instruction: Supporting Research
For evidence on what new teachers are not learning about reading instruction, see NCTQ, "What Education Schools Aren't Teaching About Reading and What Elementary Teachers Aren't Learning" 2006) at:http://www.nctq.org/nctq/images/nctq_reading_study_app.pdf.

For problems with existing reading tests, see S. Stotsky, "Why American Students Do Not Learn to Read Very Well: The Unintended Consequences of Title II and Teacher Testing," Third Education Group Review, Vol. 2, No. 2, 2006; and D. W. Rigden, Report on Licensure Alignment with the Essential Components of Effective Reading Instruction (Washington, D.C.: Reading First Teacher Education Network, 2006). 

For information on where states set passing scores on elementary level content tests for teacher licensing across the U.S., see chart on p. 13 of NCTQ "Recommendations for the Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Removing the Roadblocks: How Federal Policy Can Cultivate Effective Teachers," (2011).

For an extensive summary of the research base supporting the instructional shifts associated with college- and career-readiness standards, see "Research Supporting the Common Core ELA Literacy Shifts and Standards" available from Student Achievement Partners.