Special Education Preparation in Reading:
North Carolina

2015 Delivering Well Prepared Teachers 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.

Nearly meets

Analysis of North Carolina's policies

All special education candidates in North Carolina have to pass the MTEL Foundations of Reading test. Teachers may have until their second year of teaching to earn a passing score on this test, provided they attempt to pass it during their first year.

North Carolina also requires all teacher preparation programs for special education candidates to address the science of reading.

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, which incorporate the instructional shifts in the use of text associated with North Carolina's college- and career-readiness standards for students. North Carolina also requires all special education teachers to pass the General Curriculum content test. Its standards for language arts require teachers to "recognize types of nonfiction (e.g., informational text) and common organizational features of nonfiction (e.g., chronological order, comparison and contrast, illustrations, captions, keys)."

North Carolina's rubric for teacher candidate evaluation addresses incorporating literacy into all content areas. It requires elementary teachers to have "explicit and thorough preparation in literacy instruction" and middle school and secondary teachers to "incorporate literacy instruction within the content area or discipline." To be ranked proficient, candidates must be able to "integrate effective literacy instruction throughout the curriculum and across content areas to enhance students' learning."

Further, the MTEL Foundations of Reading test addresses the needs of struggling readers. Beginning in 2017, teacher preparation programs must ensure that all special education teacher candidates are able to diagnose students with reading difficulties and apply "instructional supports and services and reading interventions to ensure reading proficiency for all students."

Citation

Recommendations for North Carolina

Ensure that the science of reading test is meaningful.
While North Carolina's adoption of the Foundations of Reading Test is commendable, the state creates a significant loophole by allowing teachers to be in the classroom for a full year without passing the test. North Carolina should also evaluate its passing score to make certain it reflects a high standard of performance.

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

Although North Carolina 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 examples. Therefore, the extent to which this information is required is unclear. North Carolina is encouraged to make certain that its framework captures the major instructional shifts of college- and career-readiness standards, thereby ensuring that all special education candidates have the ability to adequately incorporate complex informational text into classroom instruction.

State response to our analysis

North Carolina recognized the factual accuracy of 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.