Elementary Teacher Preparation in Reading
Instruction: Virginia

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.

Nearly meets

Analysis of Virginia's policies

Virginia requires all elementary education teacher candidates to pass the Reading for Virginia Educators Assessment as a condition of initial licensure. This test addresses all five instructional components of scientifically based reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. 

In its standards for elementary teacher preparation, Virginia 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.Teacher candidates in Virginia are 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.

The Praxis II Reading for Virginia Educators Assessment requires teachers to "understand reading comprehension strategies for nonfiction," which includes the following: recognizing how to select and use a variety of nonfiction texts and utilizing different comprehension and instructional strategies to clarify students' understanding of the text.

Neither teacher standards nor testing frameworks address incorporating literacy into all academic subjects.

The testing framework for Virginia's reading test addresses struggling readers. Teachers are required to "recognize how to use diagnostic reading data to differentiate instruction to address the needs of students with reading difficulties."

Citation

Recommendations for Virginia

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

Virginia is on the right track with its Reading for Virginia Educators Assessment and revised Multiple Subjects test, which address knowledge of informational texts. However, neither framework appears to adequately capture all 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.

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

Virginia stated that in addition to the competencies set forth in the regulations requiring that programs must include an understanding of the knowledge, skills and processes to support learners in achievement of the Virginia Standards of Learning. The Standards of Learning (SOL) set forth competencies that must be addressed in the program. Virginia then referenced the Grade One Standard of Learning, which states that students "will increase vocabulary and comprehension strategics by reading across the curriculum, with emphasis on materials that reflect the Standards of Learning in mathematics, science, and history and social science."  The state also referenced the Reading for Virginia assessment.

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.