Elementary Teacher Preparation in Reading
Instruction: Arkansas

2015 Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy

Goal

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.

Meets in part

Analysis of Arkansas's policies

Although Arkansas 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 preparation of elementary teachers, Arkansas does require teacher preparation programs to address the science of reading. Programs must provide training in "the connection between phonemes and print," as well as decoding unfamiliar words, reading fluently, reading comprehension and motivation. Arkansas's educator preparation program standards require teacher preparation programs to "include at least six semester hours of instruction in reading pedagogy. The instruction shall include theories and strategies for teaching reading, diagnosis of reading difficulties, [and] intervention strategies for struggling readers...." 

Elementary teacher candidates must  be prepared for the key instructional shifts related to literacy that differentiate college- and career-readiness standards from their predecessors. Arkansas's required competencies for elementary teachers include the following standards that incorporate the instructional shifts in the use of text associated with these new standards:

  • Knowledge of developmentally appropriate informational texts across genres, cultures and centuries
  • Select developmentally appropriate informational texts, using all measures of text complexity: qualitative, quantitative, reader and task
  • Read informational texts closely and critically to analyze the key ideas and details, as well as craft and structure with the purpose of integrating knowledge and ideas both within and across texts
  • Integrate information presented in different media or formats (e.g.,visually, quantitatively) as well as in words to develop a coherent understanding of a topic or issue; ability to trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, distinguishing claims that are supported by reasons and evidence from claims that are not supported
  • Trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, distinguishing claims that are supported by reasons and evidence from claims that are not supported
  • Compare and contrast one author's presentation of events with another's.
Elementary teachers in Arkansas are also required to pass the revised Praxis II Elementary Education: Multiple Subjects (5001) test. The reading and language arts subtest 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 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.

Arkansas's elementary teacher competencies require the "ability to select developmentally appropriate scientific and technical texts, using all measures of text complexity: qualitative, quantitative, and reader and task." A similar competency is required regarding "historical and other social studies texts."

The state's competencies for elementary teachers require "knowledge of intervention strategies for struggling readers." New rules in Arkansas require teacher preparation programs to "include at least six semester hours of instruction in reading pedagogy. Further, the instruction must include "theories and strategies for teaching reading, diagnosis of reading difficulties, intervention strategies for struggling readers."





Citation

Recommendations for Arkansas

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

Arkansas 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.


State response to our analysis

Arkansas provided NCTQ with facts that enhanced this analysis. In addition, the state noted that the Praxis Reading and Language Arts Subtest (5002) goes into effect September 2015 and covers phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.


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.