Elementary Teacher Preparation in Reading
Instruction: Florida

2015 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.


Analysis of Florida's policies

All new elementary teacher candidates in Florida are required to take the Florida Teacher Certification Exam, which will include a separately scored language arts and reading subtest. The subtest addresses the five instructional components of scientifically based reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. 

In its standards for program approval, Florida also requires teacher preparation programs to address the science of reading. 

Elementary teacher candidates must be prepared for the key instructional shifts related to literacy that differentiate college- and career-readiness standards from their predecessors.The testing framework for the Teacher Certification Exam requires teachers to "evaluate and select appropriate instructional strategies" for teaching a variety of informational text. However, there is no elaboration to suggest that this includes the instructional shifts toward building content knowledge and vocabulary through increasingly complex informational texts and careful reading of informational and literary texts associated with Florida's college- and career-readiness standards for students. The framework further requires teachers to "select appropriate resources for instructional delivery of social science concepts, including complex informational text."

Reading competencies for elementary teachers also incorporate some mention of informational texts.  Florida's competencies for its Professional Education test require "knowledge of effective literacy strategies that can be applied across the curriculum to impact student learning," including the following:

  • Apply effective instructional practices to develop text reading skills in the appropriate content area
  • Select instructional practices for developing and using content area vocabulary
  • Determine instructional practices to facilitate students' reading comprehension through content areas
  • Apply appropriate literacy strategies for developing higher-order critical thinking skills
  • Select appropriate resources for the subject matter and students' literacy levels
  • Differentiate instructional practices based on literacy data for all students. 

Regarding struggling readers, competencies for the elementary test require that teachers be able to "evaluate methods for the diagnosis, prevention, and intervention of common emergent literacy difficulties." Florida's reading competencies also outline additional performance indicators pertaining to struggling readers.


Recommendations for Florida

Ensure that the science of reading test is meaningful.

To ensure that its science of reading test is meaningful, Florida should evaluate its passing score to make certain it reflects a high standard of performance. 

Ensure that new elementary teachers are prepared to incorporate informational text of increasing complexity into classroom instruction.

Although Florida's FTCE tests require some knowledge of informational texts, neither the frameworks nor teacher competencies appear to capture 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 elementary candidates have the ability to adequately incorporate complex informational text into classroom instruction. 

Ensure that new elementary teachers are prepared to incorporate literacy skills as an integral part of every subject.

Although Florida is commended for connecting literacy to the social sciences, and for making broad mention of the instructional shift in its pedagogy exam, the state should strengthen its policy and expand its requirements to include literacy skills and using text to specifically build content knowledge in science, technical subjects and the arts.

State response to our analysis

Florida recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. The state also noted that Florida requires teacher preparation programs to address “scientifically-researched reading instruction,” which NCTQ refers to as “science of reading.”

Regarding NCTQ's comment that “there is no elaboration to suggest that this includes the instructional shifts toward building content knowledge,” Florida asserted that further elaboration would involve revealing information that could compromise the integrity of test items. However, since the exam is aligned with CCSS/Florida Standards, which emphasize college- and career-readiness, a strong assumption can be made that there is content on the exam that focuses on this content shift.

How we graded

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.