Special Education Preparation in Reading:
Minnesota

2015 General Teacher Prep Programs Policy

Goal

The state should ensure that special education teachers know the science of reading instruction and are sufficiently prepared for the instructional shifts related to literacy associated with college-and career-readiness standards.

Meets a small part

Analysis of Minnesota's policies

Although subtest I of the MTLE Special Education Core Skills test contains a section addressing scientifically based reading instruction, it only accounts for 30 percent of the score and therefore cannot be considered a stand alone reading test.  However, Minnesota's preparation standards require special education candidates to be able to demonstrate knowledge of the principles of scientifically based reading instruction.

The Special Education Core Skills test addresses the use of informational texts by requiring teachers to be able to apply "knowledge of research-based, explicit instruction in print and digital informational/expository texts, and response and analysis skills for informational/expository texts (e.g., analyzing a text's internal consistency or logic, summarizing a text's main ideas)." Teacher preparation standards require special education candidates to be able to possess the "knowledge of reading comprehension processes necessary to comprehend different types of informational materials and content-area texts; and the structures and features of expository (informational) texts and effective reading strategies to address different text structures and purposes for reading."

Neither licensing tests nor teacher preparation standards address the incorporation of literacy skills in the core content areas.

With regard to struggling readers, the reading instruction portion of the state's licensing test requires teachers to be able to apply "knowledge of strategies (e.g., differentiated instruction, interventions) for addressing the assessed needs of individual students in vocabulary, academic language, comprehension and comprehension strategies."  In addition, Minnesota's teacher preparation standards require "Comprehensive, scientifically based reading instruction [that] also includes and integrates instructional strategies for continuously assessing, evaluating, and communicating the student's reading progress and needs in order to design and implement ongoing interventions so that students of all ages and proficiency levels can read and comprehend text, write, and apply higher level thinking skills, as well as ensuring that special education teachers have the "formal and informal tools to...design and implement appropriate classroom interventions for struggling readers."




Citation

Recommendations for Minnesota

Require all special education teacher candidates who teach elementary grades to pass a rigorous assessment in the science of reading instruction. 
Minnesota should require a rigorous reading assessment tool to ensure that its elementary special education teacher candidates are adequately prepared in the science of reading instruction before entering the classroom. The state's MTLE elementary education test required of general education teachers includes the equivalent of a standalone science of reading assessment. Minnesota should, therefore, expand its existing policy and require all special education teachers who teach the elementary grades to pass this assessment as well. It is especially critical that these teacher candidates possess the knowledge and skills related to the science of reading and pass a rigorous test that addresses all five instructional components of scientifically based reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. Elementary special education teachers who do not possess the minimum knowledge in this area should not be eligible for licensure.

Ensure that new special education teachers are prepared to incorporate informational text of increasing complexity into classroom instruction.
Either through testing frameworks or teacher standards, Minnesota should more specifically address the instructional shifts toward building content knowledge and vocabulary through increasingly complex informational texts and careful reading of informational and literary texts associated with college- and career-readiness standards for students. Minnesota already has in place commendable testing frameworks for its general education elementary teachers. The state is encouraged to require similar frameworks for its special education teachers, thereby ensuring knowledge of these instructional shifts.

Ensure that new special education teachers are prepared to incorporate literacy skills as an integral part of every subject.

To ensure that special education students are capable of accessing varied information about the world around them, Minnesota should include more specific requirements regarding literacy skills and using text as a means to build content knowledge in history/social studies, science, technical subjects and the arts.



State response to our analysis

Minnesota was helpful in providing NCTQ with facts necessary for this analysis.

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 special education elementary teachers who can demonstrate they have the knowledge and skills to teach children to read.

Effective early reading instruction is especially important for teachers of special education students. 
By far, the largest classification of students receiving special education services are those with learning disabilities. Based on data from the U.S. Department of Education, it is estimated that reading disabilities account for about 80 percent of learning disabilities. While early childhood and elementary teachers must know the reading science to prevent reading difficulties, special education teachers, and especially elementary special education teachers, must know how to support students who have already fallen behind and struggle with reading and literacy skills. That some states actually require less from special education teachers in terms of preparation to teach reading than they require from general education teachers is baffling and deeply worrisome. 

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. For special education teachers, preparation and training must focus on managing these instructional shifts while also helping students who may have serious reading deficiencies.

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.