Special Education Preparation in Reading:
Tennessee

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 in part

Analysis of Tennessee's policies

Tennessee requires special education teachers to pass the Praxis II Teaching Reading: Elementary Education (5203) test, which addresses the five instructional components of scientifically based reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.

New legislation in Tennessee allows teachers to delay passage of content and pedagogy tests if they possess a bachelor's degree in a core content area.

Tennessee teacher preparation requirements incorporate few of the instructional shifts associated with the state's college- and career-readiness standards for students. The Teaching Reading test —under the heading "reading comprehension strategies across text types"—requires teachers to know "how to select and use a variety of informational, descriptive, and persuasive materials at appropriate reading levels to promote students' comprehension of nonfiction, including content-area texts."

The state's Teaching Reading: Elementary Education test addresses the needs of struggling readers by requiring candidates to know "how diagnostic reading data are used to differentiate instruction to address the needs of students with reading difficulties."

Tennessee also defines dyslexia as a "specific learning disability" and requires K-12 educators to receive training for teaching students with dyslexia "using appropriate scientific research and brain-based multisensory intervention methods and strategies."



Citation

Recommendations for Tennessee

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, Tennessee should 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 the state's college- and career-readiness standards for students.

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, Tennessee should also include 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

Tennessee recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. The state also indicated that it is in the initial stages of convening a task force to support the development of new reading standards to replace the existing standards. According to the state, at a minimum, these standards will be required to be implemented in all PreK-K, PreK-3, K-5 and 6-8 licensure programs.

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.