Elementary Teacher Preparation in Reading
Instruction: Minnesota

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 Minnesota's policies

Minnesota requires that all new elementary teachers pass the Minnesota Teacher Licensure Examination (MTLE) elementary education content test, which includes the equivalent of a stand alone science of reading assessment.

In its standards for elementary and special education teacher preparation, Minnesota 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 standards for the reading subtest of the MTLE incorporate the instructional shifts in the use of text associated with college- and career-readiness standards for students and require the following:

  • Must be able to demonstrate knowledge of various types of informational/expository texts, including key textual features (e.g., indexes and headings), graphic features (e.g., charts and diagrams) and organizational structures (e.g., descriptive, chronological, cause/effect, comparison/contrast, problem/solution) of these texts and applying knowledge of explicit instruction in key features and organizational structures of various print and digital informational/expository texts to promote students' understanding of these texts
  • Must be able to apply knowledge of explicit instruction in analysis and response skills for informational/expository texts (e.g., analyzing an author's point of view or argument, evaluating a text with respect to credibility, analyzing a text's internal consistency or logic, paraphrasing information from a text, summarizing a text's main ideas)
  • Must be able to demonstrate knowledge of formal and informal methods for assessing students' understanding and analysis of and response to literary/narrative and informational/expository texts and to demonstrate the ability to interpret and use the results of these assessments to plan effective instruction in literary response and analysis and content-area literacy skills. 
The social studies subarea requires elementary teachers to do the following:
  • Demonstrate knowledge of sources of information used in social studies and their ethical use (e.g., primary sources, Internet, copyright, source citations)
  • Recognize stages in the inquiry process (e.g., developing the essential question; forming a hypothesis; finding, collecting and organizing historical research)
  • Apply knowledge of the use of tools of inquiry and problem solving (e.g., graphs, maps, time lines). 
Minnesota's test competencies address struggling readers, and the state's standards for elementary teachers require that they have the "formal and informal tools to...design and implement appropriate classroom interventions for struggling readers."


Recommendations for Minnesota

Ensure that the science of reading test is meaningful.
To ensure that its science of reading test is meaningful, Minnesota 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.

Minnesota's testing frameworks are commendable. The state is encouraged to strengthen its existing policy and explicitly require that teachers possess 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.

To ensure that elementary students are capable of accessing varied information about the world around them, Minnesota 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. 

State response to our analysis

Minnesota recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis.

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.