Elementary Teacher Preparation in Reading
Instruction: Arizona

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 a small part

Analysis of Arizona's policies

Arizona does not require elementary teacher candidates to pass an assessment that measures knowledge of scientifically based reading instruction prior to certification or at any point thereafter. The state's NES elementary content test addresses the science of reading and is divided into subtests, but because the reading questions are combined with other topics without a specific reading subscore, it does not amount to a stand alone reading test.

Arizona also does not require that teacher preparation programs for elementary teacher candidates address the science of reading. However, Arizona does require elementary teachers to complete 45 clock hours or three credit hours of instruction in "research-based systematic phonics" during their first two years of teaching in order to receive their standard elementary certificate. The state also requires that schools must adopt a scientifically based reading curriculum as part of its professional development for current teachers.

Elementary teacher candidates must be prepared for the key instructional shifts related to literacy that differentiate college- and career-readiness standards from their predecessors. Elementary teachers in Arizona are required to pass the NES Elementary Education test. The framework for the reading and English language arts domain requires teachers to "understand literary, informational, persuasive, and functional texts, and graphic sources." It then includes the following standards that begin to incorporate the instructional shifts in the use of text associated with the state's college- and career-readiness standards for students:

  • Demonstrate knowledge of the characteristics and features of various types of informational, persuasive, and functional texts, and strategies for promoting students' comprehension of various types of texts and analysis of text structures
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the characteristics and features of various types of graphic sources, such as advertisements and editorial cartoons; how visual elements can be used to convey a particular message, meaning or theme; and strategies for promoting students' comprehension and analysis of graphic sources.
Although the state's Professional Teaching Standards require that a teacher  "Develops and implements supports for learner literacy development across content areas," this standard does not go far enough to ensure that teachers include literacy skills across the core content areas.

Regarding struggling readers, Arizona's elementary test requires teachers to "apply knowledge of strategies for promoting the reading comprehension skills of students who are at different stages of reading and for facilitating comprehension before, during, and after reading."



Citation

Recommendations for Arizona

Require all teacher candidates who teach elementary grades to pass a rigorous assessment in the science of reading instruction.
Arizona 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 state is on the right track in assessing elementary teachers' knowledge of the science of reading. However, the test must not only adequately address the five instructional components of scientifically based reading instruction, but it should also 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 teacher preparation programs prepare elementary teaching candidates in the science of reading instruction.
While Arizona does require elementary teachers to complete some professional development in scientifically based reading instruction, the state's policy would be stronger if its standards for teacher preparation programs included required training in scientifically based reading instruction.

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

Although Arizona's elementary content addresses some knowledge of informational texts, the framework does not 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 candidates who teach the elementary grades have the ability to address the use of informational texts as well as incorporate complex informational texts 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, Arizona 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. 
Arizona 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

Arizona stated that rules governing the approval of educator preparation programs require “that candidates demonstrate competencies as articulated in the Board approved professional teaching standards or professional administrative standards, relevant Board approved academic standards, and relevant national standards.” The state noted that there is now a process in the review of educator preparation programs that requires evidence that program completers have been prepared to teach both Arizona Board approved academic standards and relevant national standards.

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.