Licensure Deficiencies: District of Columbia

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.

Does not meet

Analysis of District of Columbia's policies

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

The District of Columbia requires enrollment in, but not completion of, a teacher preparation program. While this initial license is non-renewable, it is valid for three years. Teachers must complete a teacher preparation program and complete other requirements, including passage of a basic skills test and a pedagogy test, in order to obtain a standard license.

Scientifically Based Reading Instruction—Tests and Standards:
The District of Columbia does not require early childhood education candidates, who can teach up through grade three, to pass a test of scientifically based reading instruction or address it in their preparation standards.

Informational Texts:
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."

Literacy Skills: The District of Columbia has no requirements for the preparation of early childhood education teachers that address the incorporation of literacy skills into the core content areas.

Struggling Readers: The District of Columbia has no requirements for the preparation of early childhood education teachers that address the needs of struggling readers.

Citation

Recommendations for District of Columbia

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.
The District of Columbia 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 District should require separate, meaningful passing scores for each core subject covered on the test, including reading/language arts, mathematics, science and social studies. The District'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.

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 teacher candidates who teach the elementary grades to pass a content test with separate passing scores for each of the core subject areas, including reading/language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies. Although the District requires appropriate testing for elementary teachers teaching on an elementary certificate, it creates a significant loophole by not holding early childhood teachers who teach elementary grades to the same requirements. The District's current practice of allowing teachers up through grade 3 to teach without ever having passed a content test is particularly worrisome and should be amended.

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 its early childhood candidates 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.
The District of Columbia's early childhood test does not adequately capture all the major instructional shifts of college- and career-readiness standards. The District of Columbia 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

With regard to subject matter concerning scientifically based reading instruction, the District of Columbia stated that it requires early childhood education candidates, who are prepared to teach preK-3 through grade 2 (3 to 8 years old), to pass a test of scientifically based reading instruction or address it in their preparation standards. The District then cited its Organizational Standards for Educator Preparation programs, which includes some competencies for candidates in fostering oral language and communication skills as well as linking children's language and culture to the early childhood program curriculum.

The District stated that the Praxis II 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, the District of Columbia noted that 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."

The District also stated that teachers who hold and early childhood credential for levels preK-3rd grade must pass the elementary Praxis II content knowledge exam for placement in grades 1-3. This state policy follows the former NCLB HQT rules. An OSSE LEA assignment table crosswalk with educator licensure is recommended for use by all LEAs in staffing.

With regard to the incorporation of literacy skills across core content areas, the District stated that specifically the Organizational Standards for Educator Preparation programs provide candidates with multiple, developmental opportunities to gain essential knowledge and skill in each content area: language and literacy.

With regard to struggling readers, the District of Columbia indicated that these competencies are addressed in the elementary grades and standards.

Last word

By tying requirements to highly qualified status, it appears that the state is putting the burden on districts to ensure that teachers have passed tests for the grades and subjects they teach. A license should mean that a teacher is prepared to teach any subjects or grades covered under that certificate.

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