Many states are overhauling their early literacy policies to align with the science of reading, an evidence-based approach that emphasizes phonics and knowledge building. Effectively implementing these reforms is crucial, as high-quality reading instruction can improve both academic and life outcomes for children.
The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), a leader of the effort to align state policy with reading science, argues that the best way to ensure strong implementation is by focusing on effective teachers. In a recently published report, it outlines five key policy actions that state leaders should take to strengthen elementary teachers’ ability to teach reading. These include setting specific and detailed standards for elementary teacher preparation programs, reviewing those programs to ensure they train prospective educators in the science of reading, adopting a strong elementary reading teacher licensure test, requiring districts to select a high-quality reading curriculum, and providing professional learning and ongoing support for in-service teachers.
As part of its analysis, NCTQ identified eighteen indicators across these five policy areas. Then, it evaluated the degree to which states (and DC) met those indicators. Based on the results, states fell into four performance categories: strong, moderate, weak, and unacceptable. Twelve states—Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Ohio, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Virginia—sufficiently address the indicators of all five policy actions, and thus earn a “strong” rating. Three others—Maine, Montana, and South Dakota—have weak reading laws and are given an “unacceptable” rating.
The report offers a detailed analysis of each policy action, including applicable research and a closer look at states that are doing particularly well (or poorly). Below are six of the big picture findings.
First, although nearly all states have standards for teacher preparation, only twenty-six have standards that address in detail all five core components of reading (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension). One in five states does not include in its standards strategies for addressing struggling readers, while twenty-one jurisdictions do not have standards for supporting English learners.
Second, most states lack specific review procedures designed to ensure that preparation programs are aligned with reading science. Fordham’s home state of Ohio earned kudos in this area, as it will soon audit preparation programs to ensure they’re training teacher candidates in reading science. Colorado and Indiana also earned mentions as states to emulate in this domain.
Third, only twenty states require a strong stand-alone reading test. Most others require a test that includes reading but is weak on the science of reading. Iowa is the only state without any licensure test that addresses reading.
Fourth, although research demonstrates that improving the quality of curriculum is a cost-effective way to boost student outcomes, only nine states require districts to select high-quality reading curricula. That means more than forty million students currently live in states that do not require districts to use high-quality reading materials.
Fifth, eighteen states make curriculum decisions transparent by publishing on state websites what each district uses or by requiring districts to publish the information themselves. Rhode Island is an exemplar in this realm, as it publishes a visualization tool that identifies which curriculum each school uses and whether the state considers it high-quality.
Lastly, thirty states require some type of professional learning on the science of reading for current teachers. Mississippi and Tennessee, in particular, offer excellent examples of professional learning and ongoing support via literacy coaches and district networks.
Overall, NCTQ finds that states are trending in the right direction regarding setting teacher preparation standards and providing professional learning opportunities. But many still have work to do with regard to embracing rigorous teacher preparation approval practices, requiring strong reading licensure tests, and ensuring that districts use high-quality curricula. For policymakers seeking to understand how their own state measures up against these model policies, the data profiles provided here are a great place to start. Some will have reason to cheer, while others may be spurred to action.
SOURCE: Shannon Holston, “Five Policy Actions to Strengthen Implementation of the Science of Reading,” NCTQ (January 2024).