Early Childhood: District of Columbia

2015 Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy


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.

Does not meet

Analysis of District of Columbia's policies

The District of Columbia's early childhood education teachers are only required to pass either the Praxis II Early Childhood: Content Knowledge (5022) test or the new Praxis II Early Childhood Education (5025) test. These tests do not report separate subscores in the core content areas of language arts, math, science or social studies.

Neither teacher standards nor the Content Knowledge (5022) assessment address the use of informational texts or the incorporation of literacy into all core subjects. However, The Early Childhood Education (5025) test addresses both the use of informational texts and text complexity. With regard to the incorporation of informational text of increasing complexity, teachers are required to know how to: "explain factors that contribute to text complexity (e.g. vocabulary, sentence complexity, images) [and] select appropriate texts for readers at various levels."

Only the Content Knowledge (5022) assessment vaguely addresses struggling readers by requiring teachers to know the "major indicators of common reading difficulties (e.g., delays in learning to read, dyslexia, comprehension difficulties).


Recommendations for District of Columbia

Require early childhood teacher candidates to pass a subject-matter test designed to ensure sufficient content knowledge of all subjects.
The District of Columbia should require all early childhood education teacher candidates, who are licensed to teach elementary grades, to pass an elementary content test appropriately aligned with its college- and career-readiness standards.  Although requiring content testing for early childhood education teacher candidates is a sound requirement, the District should strengthen its policy and require separate, meaningful passing scores for each core subject covered on the test, including reading/language arts, math, science and social studies. 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. 

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

The District of Columbia should require a rigorous reading assessment tool to ensure that all early childhood education teacher candidates, who are licensed to teach elementary grades, 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. Early childhood teachers who do not possess the minimum knowledge in this area should not be eligible for licensure.

Ensure that early childhood 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.
Only one of the District of Columbia's early childhood test options fully captures all the major instructional shifts of college- and career-readiness standards. The District 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 to incorporate complex informational texts into classroom instruction.

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, The District of Columbia 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.
The District of Columbia should articulate more specific requirements ensuring that all candidates who teach elementary grades 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

The District of Columbia stated that there are overlapping grade levels served by the Elementary Education and Early Childhood Education licenses whereby a teacher is permitted to teach grades 1-3 with either license. However, the District notes, while a teacher of grades 1-3 who holds only an Early Childhood Education license is not required to pass the Elementary Education test for licensure purposes, she or he is required to pass the test in order to demonstrate subject proficiency for highly qualified purposes. As highlighted above, the elementary education (5001) content knowledge test provides separate subscores for the individual core subject areas covered on the assessment.

Last word

By relying on federal HQT provisions rather than articulating its own certification requirement that teachers must demonstrate subject-matter knowledge, the SEA is putting the burden on LEAs to ensure that their teachers are HQT instead of making this part of licensure.

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.