Early Childhood: Massachusetts

2015 General Teacher Prep Programs Policy

Goal

The state should ensure that new teachers who can teach elementary grades on an early childhood license possess sufficient content knowledge in all core subjects and know the science of reading instruction.

Meets a small part

Analysis of Massachusetts's policies

Massachusetts only requires its early childhood education teacher candidates, who are licensed to teach elementary grades through grade 2, to pass the MTEL Early Childhood test, which not only combines content with a pedagogy assessment but also does not report teacher performance in each subject area, meaning that it is possible to pass the test and still fail some subject areas.

Massachusetts requires early childhood teacher candidates to pass its own Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure (MTEL) Foundations of Reading test, which is based on the state's standards and addresses the core areas of scientifically based reading instruction. Candidates may also satisfy this test requirement by passing the MTEL Reading Specialist test.

The Foundations of Reading assessment requires teachers to "understand how to apply reading comprehension skills and strategies to informational/expository texts." The framework then offers an extensive list of examples for achieving this competency.

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

Regarding struggling readers, Massachusetts's Foundations of Reading test requires the following:

  • Understand formal and informal methods for assessing reading development—for example, assessment of the reading development of individual students (e.g., struggling readers)
  • Understand multiple approaches to reading instruction—for example, awareness of strategies and resources for supporting individual students (e.g., struggling readers).
The Reading Specialist test objectives also addressed the needs of struggling readers.




Citation

Recommendations for Massachusetts

Require early childhood teacher candidates to pass a subject-matter test designed to ensure sufficient content knowledge of all subjects.
Massachusetts should require a rigorous content test as a condition of certification that includes separate, meaningful passing scores for each core subject area on the test. Use of a composite passing score offers no assurance of adequate knowledge in each subject area. A candidate may achieve a passing score and still be seriously deficient in a particular subject area.

Ensure that early childhood education teachers are prepared to meet the instructional requirements of college- and career-readiness standards for students. 

Incorporate informational text of increasing complexity into classroom instruction.
 
Although Massachusetts is on the right track with its requirement of the Foundations of Reading test, which addresses knowledge of informational texts, the in-depth coverage of the topic is presented as an example. Therefore, the extent to which this information is required is unclear. Massachusetts is encouraged to make certain that its framework captures the major instructional shifts of college- and career-readiness standards, thereby ensuring that all elementary and early childhood candidates have the ability to adequately incorporate complex informational text into classroom instruction. Because candidates may also satisfy the reading test requirement by taking the MTEL Reading Specialist test, which does not address the knowledge of informational texts, Massachusetts is encouraged to require all candidates to take the Foundations of Reading test.

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, Massachusetts 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

Massachusetts noted that the Foundations of Reading test also includes the following:

  • Knowledge of the significant theories, practices, and programs for developing reading skills and reading comprehension
  • Phonemic awareness and phonics: principles, knowledge, and instructional practices
  • Diagnosis and assessment of reading skills using standardized, criterion-referenced and informal assessment instruments
  • Development of a listening, speaking and reading vocabulary
  • Theories on the relationships between beginning writing and reading
  • Theories of first and second language acquisition and development.



How we graded

Research rationale

Early childhood teachers who teach elementary grades must be ready for the demands of the elementary classroom.
Thirty-eight states have early childhood licenses that include some elementary classroom grades, usually up to grade three. Yet most of these states set a lower bar for teacher subject-matter knowledge for these early childhood licenses than they do for their more standard elementary licenses. Given the focus on content knowledge and building vocabulary in college- and career-readiness standards, states are putting students at risk by not holding all elementary teachers to equivalent standards. That is not to say the license requirements must be identical; there are certainly different focuses in terms of child development and pedagogy. But the idea that content knowledge is only needed by upper-grade elementary teachers is clearly false.

Focus on reading science is especially critical for early childhood teachers. 
While some states fail to ensure that any elementary teachers know the reading science on how to teach young children to read, it is incomprehensible that there are states that set an even lower bar for early childhood teachers than for teachers who can teach elementary grades on an early childhood license. Research is clear that the best defense against reading failure is effective early reading instruction. If such licenses do not put even more emphasis on the needs of the early elementary classroom, of which learning to read is paramount, one questions what purpose they serve at all.

Early Childhood Teacher Preparation: Supporting Research
Numerous research studies have established the strong relationship between teachers' vocabulary (a proxy for being broadly educated) and student achievement. For example: A.J. Wayne and P. Youngs, "Teacher characteristics and student achievement gains: A review," Review of Educational Research, Volume 73, No. 1, Spring 2003, pp. 89-122. See also G.J. Whitehurst, "Scientifically based research on teacher quality: Research on teacher preparation and professional development," presented at the 2002 White House Conference on Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers; R. Ehrenberg and D. Brewer, "Did Teachers' Verbal Ability and Race Matter in the 1960s? Coleman Revisited," Economics of Education Review, Volume 14, No. 1, March 1995, pp. 1-21.

Research also connects individual content knowledge with increased reading comprehension, making the capacity of the teacher to infuse all instruction with content of particular importance for student achievement. See Willingham, D. T., "How knowledge helps: It speeds and strengthens reading comprehension, learning—and thinking," American Educator, Volume 30, No. 1, Spring 2006.

For the importance of teachers' general academic ability, see R. Ferguson, "Paying for Public Education: New Evidence on How and Why Money Matters," Harvard Journal on Legislation Volume 28, Summer 1991, pp. 465-498; L. Hedges, R. Laine and R. Greenwald, "An Exchange: Part I: Does Money Matter? A Meta-Analysis of Studies of the Effects of Differential School Inputs on Student Outcomes," Educational Researcher, Volume 23, No. 3 April 1994, pp. 5-14; E. Hanushek, "Teacher Characteristics and Gains in Student Achievement: Estimation Using Micro Data," The American Economic Review Volume 61, No. 2, May 1971, pp. 280-288; E. Hanushek, "A More Complete Picture of School Resource Policies," Review of Educational Research, Volume 66, Fall 1996, pp. 397-409; H. Levin, "Concepts of Economic Efficiency and Educational Production," in Education as an Industry, eds. J. Froomkin, D. Jamison, and R. Radner, 1976, pp. 149-198; D. Monk, "Subject Area Preparation of Secondary Mathematics and Science Teachers and Student Achievement," Economics of Education Review, Volume 13, No. 2, June 1994, pp. 125-145; R. Murnane, "Understanding the Sources of Teaching Competence: Choices, Skills, and the Limits of Training," Teachers College Record, Volume 84, No. 3, 1983, pp. 564-569; R. Murnane and B. Phillips, Effective Teachers of Inner City Children: Who They Are and What Are They? (Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research, 1978); R. Murnane and B. Phillips, "What Do Effective Teachers of Inner-City Children Have in Common?" Social Science Research Volume 10, No. 1, March 1981, pp. 83-100; M. McLaughlin and D. Marsh, "Staff Development and School Change," Teachers College Record, Volume 80, No. 1,1978, pp. 69-94; R. Strauss and E. Sawyer, "Some New Evidence on Teacher and Student Competencies," Economics of Education Review, Volume 5, No. 1, 1986, pp. 41-48; A. A. Summers and B.L. Wolfe, "Which School Resources Help Learning? Efficiency and Equity in Philadelphia Public Schools," Business Review (Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, February 1975).

Sandra Stotsky has documented the fact that teacher candidates often make inappropriate or irrelevant coursework choices that nonetheless satisfy state requirements. See S. Stotsky with L. Haverty, "Can a State Department of Education Increase Teacher Quality? Lessons Learned in Massachusetts," in Brookings Papers on Education Policy: 2004, ed. Diane Ravitch (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2004).

On the need for colleges and universities to improve their general education coursework requirements, see The Hollow Core: Failure of the General Education Curriculum (Washington, D.C.: American Council of Trustees and Alumni, 2004). For a subject-specific example of institutions' failure to deliver solid liberal arts preparation see, The Coming Crisis in Citizenship: Higher Education's Failure to Teach America's History and Institutions (Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2006).

For information on teacher licensing tests, see The Academic Quality of Prospective Teachers: The Impact of Admissions and Licensure Testing (Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service, 1999). A study by C. Clotfelter, H. Ladd, and J.Vigdor of elementary teachers in North Carolina also found that teachers with test scores one standard deviation above the mean on the Elementary Education Test as well as a test of content was associated with increased student achievement of 0.011 to 0.015 standard deviations. "How and Why Do Teacher Credentials Matter for Student Achievement?" The Calder Institute (2007).

For information on where states set passing scores on teacher licensing tests 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 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.