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Most teacher prep programs don’t hit major reading components, but NC is improving

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North Carolina continued to improve in the latest Teacher Prep Review report by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ). This 2023 report is the first published since North Carolina enacted its 2021 science of reading law, which aims to address practices in reading instruction in pre-kindergarten, kindergarten through fifth grade, and in educator preparation programs (EPPs).

The findings are based on a review of documents provided by EPPs, including course syllabi, lecture slides, and sample assignments.

“This report confirms what educators have been saying for years,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a release. “To help our students become joyful and confident readers, we must understand that teaching reading is not just an art, but also a science.”

NCTQ says the purpose of its Teacher Prep Review is to ensure that EPPs are providing future teachers with expertise in reading instruction. The organization defines scientifically based reading instruction as:

Grounded in the research on how students learn to read. It builds off the 2000 National Reading Panel report, which emphasizes the importance of alphabetics (phonemic awareness and phonics), fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. A 2016 report by the Institute of Education Sciences (updated in 2019) examined the research since the National Reading Panel’s release, confirming and extending the findings of the 2000 report and offering teachers actionable, evidence-based recommendations to teach reading.

As states pass laws and policy around the science of reading, it’s important to pay attention to their definitions. For context, North Carolina’s law defines the science of reading as:

Evidence-based reading instruction practices that address the acquisition of language, phonological and phonemic awareness, phonics and spelling, fluency, vocabulary, oral language, and comprehension that can be differentiated to meet the needs of individual students.

‘Teacher prep programs haven’t fully caught up’

The Teacher Prep Review presents six national findings:

  • Only 25% of programs adequately address all five core components of reading instruction.
  • Phonemic awareness receives the least attention across programs.
  • Nearly one-third of programs do not provide any practice opportunities connected to the core components of reading.
  • With strong state policies, effective implementation, and accountability, states can improve the quality of teacher preparation in reading.
  • Programs provide little preparation in teaching reading to English learners, struggling readers, and speakers of English language varieties.
  • Distribution of program grades in 2023.

“We’re in the midst of a long overdue revolution on the science of reading, but teacher prep programs haven’t fully caught up,” NCTQ President Heather Peske said. “Prospective teachers — and certainly their students — deserve far better.”

But when you focus on North Carolina, the report reads optimistically – especially considering the state is in the early stages of implementing its 2021 reading law.

North Carolina is tied for fourth with Colorado and Ohio as states with the most “exemplary” undergraduate programs. East Carolina, Lenoir-Rhyne, UNC Asheville, and Western Carolina each received this distinction. UNC Chapel Hill’s graduate program was also called exemplary. 

When calculating the average number of core components adequately addressed across each state’s programs, NCTQ ranks North Carolina tied for eighth among all states. 

North Carolina is also one of eight states (with Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Utah), where at least 50% of the programs adequately address all five components. Four states with five or more programs in the sample (Kansas, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington) had at least 50% of programs that do not adequately address any of the five components.

The review continued to lift up the state of Mississippi, which has garnered a lot of attention for its rise among fourth-grade reading results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress testing. In its report, NCTQ called attention to Mississippi’s teacher prep changes since 2013.

To support sustainability, the report states, Mississippi redesigned educator prep program guidelines and program approval requirements to prescribe 15 credit hours dedicated to literacy. It requires two courses—Early Literacy 1 and Early Literacy 2, which include an emphasis on dyslexia and English language learners. A third course, Fundamentals of Reading in the Upper Elementary Grades, is also required.

Rupen Fofaria

Rupen Fofaria was the equity and learning differences reporter for EducationNC from 2018 through October 2023.