Licensure Deficiencies: Massachusetts

2017 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. This goal was consistent between 2015 and 2017.

Meets a small part

Analysis of Massachusetts's policies

Content Test Requirements: 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.

Scientifically Based Reading Instruction—Tests and Standards: Massachusetts requires early childhood education 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 state's focus on ensuring that teachers know the science of reading results in one of the nation's best policies regarding teacher preparation in the critical area of reading instruction.

Informational Texts: Early childhood education teacher candidates must be prepared for the key instructional shifts related to literacy that differentiate college- and career-readiness standards from their predecessors. The Foundations of Reading test 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. The Reading Specialist test does not address the use of informational texts.

Literacy Skills: The Foundations of Reading assessment requires teachers to demonstrate "strategies for promoting comprehension across the curriculum by expanding knowledge of academic language, including conventions of standard English grammar and usage, differences between the conventions of spoken and written standard English, general academic vocabulary, and content-area vocabulary." However, this is just one example under the broad test objective heading of "Understand vocabulary development." The Reading Specialist test does not address the use of informational texts.

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

  • An understanding of formal and informal methods for assessing reading development—for example, assessment of the reading development of individual students (e.g., struggling readers)
  • An understanding of multiple approaches to reading instruction—for example, awareness of strategies and resources for supporting individual students (e.g., struggling readers).
The Reading Specialist test has similar objectives that address the needs of struggling readers. However, these standards do not go far enough to ensure that teachers are fully prepared to identify and support struggling readers.



Citation

Recommendations for Massachusetts

Require all early childhood candidates who are eligible to teach elementary grades to pass a subject-matter test designed to ensure sufficient content knowledge of all subjects.
Massachusetts should require all early childhood education teacher candidates who teach elementary grades to pass an elementary content test appropriately aligned with its college- and career-readiness standards. Although requiring a content test is a step in the right direction, the state should require separate, meaningful passing scores for each core subject covered on the test, including reading/language arts, mathematics, science and social studies. The state's current practice of using a composite passing score offers no assurance of adequate knowledge in each subject area and therefore fails to ensure that a candidate who achieves a passing score has the necessary subject-matter knowledge to teach 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.
Although Massachusetts is on the right track with its requirement of the Foundations of Reading test, which addresses literacy skills, the in-depth coverage of the topic is presented as examples. 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 special education candidates have the ability to adequately incorporate literacy skills as an integral part of every subject into classroom instruction. Because candidates may also satisfy the reading test requirement by taking the MTEL Reading Specialist test,  which does not address the incorporation of literacy skills as an integral part of every subject, Massachusetts is encouraged to require all candidates to take the Foundations of Reading test.

Support Struggling Readers.
Although Massachusetts is on the right track with its requirements of the Foundations of Reading test, which addresses the use of assessments and strategies to support struggling readers, the coverage of the topic is presented as examples. Therefore, the extent to which this information is required is unclear. Massachusetts is therefore encouraged to strengthen its teacher preparation requirements and ensure that all candidates who teach the elementary grades have the ability to identify as well as support struggling readers.

State response to our analysis

Massachusetts recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis, however this analysis was updated subsequent to the state's review. In June of 2017, The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved revised regulatory language that grants the state department the authority to develop (and update) guidelines for the Subject-Matter Knowledge (SMK) Requirements used by providers to design teacher preparation programs and by the state in developing items and cut-scores for the MTEL. In anticipation of this, the state has already begun convening working groups from the field to update the SMKs in alignment with the 2013 MA Curriculum Frameworks. This will mean substantial revisions to expectations for teacher candidates in all programs with a focus on literacy across the subject-areas and an emphasis on college and career readiness for students. The guidelines will be out for public comment this fall and finalized by January 2018.

In addition, Massachusetts stated that it requires candidates for the Early Childhood educator license to pass the Early Childhood test, which assesses content knowledge (not pedagogy) in mathematics, history and social science, science and writing, as well as child development. There aren't a sufficient number of multi-choice items in each of these content areas to make a pass/fail decision for each subject. In order to meet this requirement, the state would, therefore, have to design a separate sub-test for each of these fields in order to assess individual subject-matter knowledge. Massachusetts stated that this would place an unnecessary burden on candidates for the Early Childhood license.

How we graded

2D: Elementary Licensure Deficiencies

  • Adequate Content Knowledge: The state should ensure that all new elementary teacher candidates teaching under an early childhood license possess sufficient elementary content knowledge in all core subjects, including mathematics.
  • Scientifically Based Reading Instruction: The state should ensure that all new elementary teacher candidates teaching under an early childhood license are required to pass a rigorous test of scientifically based reading instruction. The design of the test should ensure that prospective teachers cannot pass without knowing the five scientifically based components of early reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.
  • College- and Career-Readiness Standards: The state should ensure that all new elementary teachers teaching under an early childhood license are sufficiently prepared for the ways that college- and career-readiness standards affect instruction in all subject areas. Specifically,
    • The state should ensure that these early childhood education teachers are prepared to incorporate informational texts of increasing complexity into instruction.
    • The state should ensure that these early childhood education teachers are prepared to incorporate literacy skills as an integral part of every subject.
    • The state should ensure that these early childhood education teachers are prepared to identify and support struggling readers.
Adequate Content Knowledge
One-half of the total goal score is earned based on the following:

  • One-half credit: The state will earn one-half of a point if it requires early childhood teachers to pass the same individually scored content tests as elementary teachers.
  • One-quarter credit: The state will earn one-quarter of a point if it requires early childhood teachers to pass the same content tests as elementary teachers, but the content tests are not individually scored.
Scientifically Based Reading Instruction
One-quarter of the total goal score is earned based on the following:

  • One-quarter credit: The state will earn one-quarter of a point if it requires all new early childhood teachers to pass a rigorous test of scientifically based reading instruction. The design of the test must ensure that all prospective teachers are competent in the five research-based components of early reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.
College- and Career-Readiness Standards
One-quarter of the total goal score is earned based on the following: 

  • One-quarter credit: The state will earn one-quarter of a point if its elementary teacher preparation tests or standards address the three components of college- and career-readiness standards. To earn credit, states must have at least one component "fully addressed" and two "partially addressed."

Research rationale

Early childhood teachers who teach elementary grades must be ready for the demands of the elementary classroom. Many states have early childhood licenses that include some elementary classroom grades, usually up to grade three.[1] Because teachers with this early childhood license can still teach many elementary grades, they should not be held to a lower bar for subject-matter knowledge than if they held more standard elementary licenses. Given the focus on building students' content knowledge and vocabulary in college- and career-readiness standards,[2] states would put students at risk by not holding all elementary teachers to equivalent standards.[3] 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 instruction is especially critical for early childhood teachers. Although some states do not ensure that any elementary teachers know the science of how to teach young children to read, in the states where this is a priority, it is inexcusable to hold elementary teachers on an early childhood license to a lower standard. Research is clear that the best defense against reading failure is effective early reading instruction.[4] Therefore, if such licenses are neglecting to meet the needs of the early elementary classroom, of which learning to read is paramount, they are failing to meet one of their most fundamental purposes.


[1] National Council on Teacher Quality. (2016, June). Some assembly required: Piecing together the preparation preschool teachers need. Retrieved from http://www.nctq.org/dmsView/Preschool
[2] Student Achievement Partners. (2015). Research supporting the Common Core ELA/literacy shifts and standards. Retrieved from https://achievethecore.org/content/upload/Research%20Supporting%20the%20ELA%20Standards%20and%20Shifts%20Final.pdf
[3] Numerous research studies have established the strong relationship between teachers' vocabulary (a proxy for being broadly educated) and student achievement. For example: Wayne, A. J., & Youngs, P. (2003). Teacher characteristics and student achievement gains: A review. Review of Educational Research, 73(1), 89-122.; See also: Whitehurst, G. J. (2002, March). Scientifically based research on teacher quality: Research on teacher preparation and professional development. In White House Conference on Preparing Tomorrow's Teacher.; Ehrenberg, R. G., & Brewer, D. J. (1995). Did teachers' verbal ability and race matter in the 1960s? Coleman revisited. Economics of Education Review, 14(1), 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.; Willingham, D. T. (2006). How knowledge helps: It speeds and strengthens reading comprehension, learning, and thinking. American Educator, 30(1), 30. Retrieved from https://www.aft.org/periodical/american-educator/spring-2006/how-knowledge-helps
[4] Torgesen, J.K. (November 2005). Preventing reading disabilities in young children: Requirements at the classroom and school level. Presented at the Western North Carolina LD/ADD Symposium.; Walsh, K., Glaser, D., & Wilcox, D. D. (2006). What education schools aren't teaching about reading and what elementary teachers aren't learning. National Council on Teacher Quality. Retrieved from http://www.nctq.org/nctq/images/nctq_reading_study_app.pdf