Science of Reading (Finally) Becoming Mainstream in Teacher Prep Programs
“For the first time, a majority of elementary teacher education programs have adopted the tenets of reading science in their curriculum. According to the latest “Teacher Prep Review” by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), 51 percent of U.S. programs that educate elementary teachers have now earned an A or B grade for their inclusion of the key aspects of the science of reading — up from 35 percent in 2013.
The NCTQ is a research and policy organization that is working to modernize the teaching profession. For the current round of reviews, researchers examined how 2,506 teacher preparation undergraduate and graduate programs operate. They also reviewed 129 alternate route programs and 18 residencies that lead to elementary and secondary certification. In total, these programs produce 99 percent of traditionally prepared teachers.
Why the focus on reading? Because research has shown that reading ability is a key predictor of future educational gains and life success. As the report noted, successful reading instruction is “essential to achieving educational equity.”
According to NCTQ, the teaching of early reading encompasses five components:
- Phonemic awareness;
- Vocabulary; and
- Reading comprehension.
To develop the grades assigned to individual teaching programs, a team of literacy experts examined every course each program requires in early reading. That included looking at the planned topics to be covered in each class, readings, assignments, practice opportunities and tests. The reviews confirmed the presence or lack thereof of explicit instruction on each component; the use of “high-quality textbooks” that detail each component; and opportunities for the teacher candidates to develop and prove mastery through their assignments, tests and instructional practices. To earn top grades, the programs needed to offer adequate instruction in at least four of the five areas of science-based reading.
The research project found that undergraduate programs are almost twice as likely as graduate programs to teach science-based methods. Phonemic awareness seems to be the most challenging element for schools; NCTQ reported that “narrowly half (51 percent) of programs helped teachers develop their instructional skills in that area. That was followed by too little emphasis on teaching about the importance of reading fluency (53 percent).
Programs in Mississippi, which saw “significant gains” in student reading scores on the 2019 Nation’s Report Card, earned the highest average scores in 2020. All 12 traditional programs in the state received a passing score. Utah came in a close second.
The report highlighted 15 undergraduate teacher preparation programs that the NCTQ said were doing an “exemplary job” of teaching reading instruction to aspiring teachers:
- Arkansas Tech University
- Florida International University
- University of Florida
- Lewis-Clark State College (ID)
- Nicholls State University (LA)
- Gordon College (MS)
- Delta State University (MS)
- University of Mississippi
- Lenoir-Rhyne University (NC)
- University of Akron (OH)
- East Tennessee State University
- East Texas Baptist University
- Dixie State University (UT)
- Utah State University
- Marshall University (WV)
On the opposite end of the spectrum, 39 percent of traditional programs failed, earning a grade of D or F; 10 percent received Cs.
Among the non-traditional programs, more than eight in 10 (83 percent) failed to show evidence that they teach using the principles of the science of reading. And there were 175 programs that NCTQ couldn’t rate “in spite of repeated requests…to look at their reading syllabi.”
“The progress being made by programs comes as a real shot in the arm,” observed Kate Walsh, president of NCTQ, in a statement. “The resistance to teaching what is scientifically-based has been so formidable. The scale is now tipping in favor of science, and the real winners here are the students who will learn to read.”