One third flunk test on teaching reading

One third of would-be elementary and preschool teachers in Connecticut flunk an exam on how to teach reading reports the Connecticut Mirror.

Teach for America teachers had the highest pass rate, 93 percent, despite their abbreviated training. University of Connecticut was next at 91 percent. At some Connecticut State University campuses, more than 40 percent of student teachers flunked the Foundations of Reading exam. (I got 100 percent on the test questions here.)

The certification exam, consisting of 100 multiple-choice questions and two essay questions, has been used in Massachusetts since 2002. It is designed to test knowledge of teaching methods that reflect a rigorous, systematic approach to reading instruction, including phonics.

Many of those methods, backed by various research studies, were recommended a decade ago by a National Reading Panel report and in Connecticut’s Blueprint for Reading Achievement, but some educators and children’s advocates contend that college and university teacher training programs have been slow to respond.

Prospective teachers are complaining their education classes didn’t prepare them for the exam. And some education professors say the exam doesn’t measure what it takes to be a good teacher.

Via NCTQ Bulletin.

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  1. Bill Eccleston says:

    The most ignored study in education is the National Council for Teacher Quality’s report: “What Education Schools Are Not Teaching About Reading.” This depressing Connecticut news proves the report’s point. Everyone—READ THAT REPORT. It is the beginning of all wisdom in educational reform.

  2. There probably are a lot of things contributing to the prospective teachers failing this exam- everything from ed classes not concentrating on test prep to less-qualified candidates going through elementary schools of education to who knows what. The bottom line is that if they know they have to take it and if TFA folks can be given a study guide and do well on it, the students of education should be expected to do the same.

  3. I don’t think anyone should be able to major in education. Ed schools should be reduced to a department, allowed to offer minors only. Preschool and el ed students should take a specific program of courses across the disciplines, developed and taught by faculty in those disciplines. The actual courses should reflect knowledge all ES teachers should have in order to provide kids with a solid foundation; good literature, grammar and composition, history, geography, government, arithmetic including the basic operations, fractions, decimals, percentages etc., science including bio, earth/solar system and level-specific growth/development and child psych. The ed minor should include specifics of teaching real math (Singapore), reading (phonics) and grammar/composition and should incorporate regular classroom practice under the guidance of an experienced teacher.

  4. Dear prospective teachers, quit whining and do some studying. You make us all look bad. When my wife and I (both teachers) moved from WA to CT, we had to take our respective Praxis exams. We passed easily without any test-prep. Yet, there were others in our testing groups who were taking the test for the third and fourth time. How is it possible to fail a test, in your discipline, three or four times? You don’t belong in the classroom.

  5. Yeah, I’m with you McNamar. When I took my Praxis, I finished it in a half hour and earned a perfect score. It just wasn’t hard. Yet, there were people there who had flunked it. Get over yourself and study or get a job in retail. That’s what we ask our students to do.

  6. The problem starts in ed schools; they admit too many weak students and they don’t appear to teach them much in the subsequent four years. I’m sure it’s possible to get a real education and the motivated do so but it also appears possible to coast through without acquiring significant knowledge and skills. I can’t see why it’s even possible to take the test three or four times.

  7. I’ve been a middle school teacher of English for decades and I have never been trained on how to teach reading.

    All I know is that my wife and I read to my son when he was small and then one day he interrupted and starting reading to us.

    And one day when I was too tired to read the current Harry Potter book, he picked it up and read it himself.

    What do we do in the classroom for students who can’t read?

    We cover it up, assign less reading, dumb down the materials, ignore the problem, or “refer for testing,” which usually takes all year and then once it’s done, nothing comes of it.

    We also blame the parents, blame the child, blame the school system and blame society.

    I know what to do. I just don’t know how to teach reading.

  8. Robert, you shouldn’t have to teach reading in middle school (in the sense of decoding). If you do have students who literally can’t decode or can do it only with difficulty in grades 5-8, they need to be assigned intense, REALLY intense extra help outside your classroom. There is no way to turn a middle school English class into a class where basic reading skills are taught.

  9. California universities do *not* offer bachelor degrees in education. The “traditional” route to teaching is to get some form of degree, either “liberal arts” or a more focused one, and then take a “5th year” of education classes in order to become credentialed. We have “non-traditional” routes, too, including for-profit universities (for working adults!) or intern programs.

    In my intern program, even we 7-12 single subject teachers had to take a class in teaching reading! That doesn’t mean there aren’t programs out there still pushing so-called whole language, though.

  10. Mark Roulo says:

    “California universities do *not* offer bachelor degrees in education. The ‘traditional’ route to teaching is to get some form of degree, either “liberal arts” or a more focused one…”


    As and example, Jose State University grants degrees in “BA, Liberal Studies, Preparation for Teaching.”

    Given that “Liberal Studies” is pretty much “extended undeclared”, I’m wondering if we still have the fundamental problem that killing off the BA in Ed was intended to address: namely that many K-8 teachers content knowledge basically stops in high school.

    -Mark Roulo

  11. John Drake says:

    While students may not major in education, the ed school sucks up dozens of units that the students *should* be taking in their major.

    Sometimes a good half of the core curriculum in a major is replaced by useless pedagogy classes that seem to make students worse teachers.

  12. California has implemented extremely rigorous subject tests that pretty much wiped out the k-8 teaching programs at the lesser Cal States, the ones with predominantly unprepared populations.

    Most teachers in California become teachers through a credentialing program or the master’s degree. You generally have to take and pass at least one of the competency tests before being accepted into a credentialling program.

    The reading test is different from the other subject matter tests, but I’m pretty sure that the classes themselves don’t cover the test–nor are they intended to.

    The most likely reason they didn’t pass the test is that they were close to illiterate themselves.

  13. Maybe it’s a dumb test. I just squeaked through the written part of my tenure test because the questions were so arcane. Anyway, it could be the test itself.

  14. John, that’s not true for California. All 30 units that count for a credential have to be taken after a BA is earned.

    Those 30 units are more of an endurance test than any an educational experience.

    Some of my worst professors were the ones I had for education.

    You’d think the opposite would be true.

  15. That’s so sad. And to think people are worried about topics like this: When all these kids can’t even read! Disgraceful.

  16. Student of History says:

    No one calls it Whole Language anymore. Same techniques though are now referred to as Balanced Literacy or Guided Reading.

    If you see Fountas & Pinnell in that first grade classroom, start reading Jeanne Chall, Marilyn Jager Adams, research by the Stanovichs or Diane MacGuinness’ book.

    Get a copy of the National Reading Panel Report and that NCTQ study referred to above (it’s on the NCTQ website).

    If you want a bond with your child or grandchild that is enduring, you be the one that makes the links clear between the sounds of the English language and the letters that always or usually represent those sounds.

    A child with a love of stories will never find phonics readers boring because they know they’re just a temporary tool used to build up skills.

    One of my kids literally was mastering a reader a day in an effort to be able to read Ursula LeGuin’s wonderful Catwings books herself.

    Another felt that way about Patricia Coombs’ mischievous Dorrie and another Bill Peet’s wonderfully silly stories.

    Use the 398.2 legends and fairy tales to turbocharge their imaginations and no phonetically controlled reader will ever be boring. It’s just a temporary stepping stone to a world of great stories.

    And when it’s all over and they’re fluent readers ready to learn, remember that you are not qualified to teach reading in a public school no matter how much you know or how pertinent your experience.

  17. How can the fact that one third of teacher candidates don’t understand enough about teaching reading to pass a basic test on the subject be taken as evidence that prospective teachers need even less instruction in how to teach reading than they are currently receiving? This attitude seems especially puzzling in the case of someone who claims to admire Singapore math. Singapore offers a four year BA degree in education with extensive courses in pedagogy. I would agree that American education schools tend to be very weak, but it seems to me that the answer is to follow the example of high-achieving countries like Singapore and improve the quality and selectivity of our education programs rather than to minimize them.

    It’s not OK for a middle school English teacher to not understand how to teach reading. Obviously, someone teaching this age group might not need to know how to teach beginning reading, but they will need to know how to work with dyslexic students and those who do not speak English as their first language.

  18. Student of History says:

    In 2007 the National Institute for Literacy published the superb “What Content-Area Teachers Should Know About Adolescent Literacy”.

    That would be the 1st place every middle school teacher should go. You can download the pdf or HTML by going to .

    It was written for middle and high school teachers who may have had no or little preparation to teach reading and writing skills but are being presented with students with deficits in these areas.

    The teacher will have no doubt when they finish the heavily researched report as to what works and why.

  19. The problem starts in ed schools; they admit too many weak students and they don’t appear to teach them much in the subsequent four years.

    We’ve all seen the efforts to put “dispositions” ahead of knowledge or teaching ability.  Why is this a surprise?

  20. bill eccleston says:

    Mr. McNamar, et al, you don’t really understand the issue. The reading exam alluded to is no creampuff like Praxis. I agree completely with you that anyone who can’t pass the Praxis should not be teaching. My Springer Spaniel could pass that test. But modern reading science is just that, a science—complex and demanding. The title of the American Federation of Teachers professional development program in reading expresses the idea exactly, “Reading is Rocket Science.” The key point is that you must take specialized courses to master it. Yet the NCTQ study of 77 assorted teacher prep programs found that just 15% of them included all the necessary elements of reading science. So, if you are not in one of those schools that does teach the subject, you aren’t going to pass the Ct. reading exam no matter how conscientious a student you have been. By the way, why is it that the AFT can’t leverage it’s effective response to the literacy crisis into a better public image for the union?

  21. The key point is that you must take specialized courses to master it.

    Clearly not, since TFA grads pass it pretty effortlessly.

    It’s not a hard test.

  22. When I was in college, the required number of credits for a (7-12) major in the ed school was exactly half of the number required for a major in arts & sciences. The rest of the credits were ed-BS that was pretty much useless and the ed school was widely regarded as having the most awful professors, in terms of teaching ability. If they had tried to create a situation most likely to turn away those interested in serious academics they could hardly have done better.

  23. bill eccleston says:

    The TFA grads are given intensive instruction in Reading science, Cal, that’s why they pass the test!

  24. I thought they were given a study guide. I looked at the practice test, and got the first few right without even reviewing. I’m sure I could pass it with little effort.

  25. When I was in college, the required number of credits for a (7-12) major in the ed school was exactly half of the number required for a major in arts & sciences.

    You do realize that your experience is not generalizable, don’t you?

  26. Bill,
    I agree completely the reading instruction is really a much more difficult practice than taking the Praxis. Having taught two very different reading courses as the high school level, Scholastic’s Read 180 and McGraw Hill’s Corrective Reading (Direct Instruction), I truly understand the complexity. I have no idea what is being taught in college–I had zero training in true reading pedagogy.
    However, with such an emphasis on reading as a skill, teachers in any training course should have the foresight to study how to teach reading (all teachers). A teacher in training who fails a test more than once should not be allowed to teach our children. That is my ultimate point. They give us a bad name.

  27. Mark Roulo says:

    “The TFA grads are given intensive instruction in Reading science, Cal, that’s why they pass the test!”

    But the TFA summer training program is only five weeks long.

    Even if it is intense and even if the only thing they cover is reading, shouldn’t the teachers-to-be with four year degrees in education be competetive? If you make the assumption that reading is maybe ¼ the curriculum (assign another ¼ to math, another ¼ to “all the other subjects” and the last ¼ to classroom management), we still have a situation where the ed-students with one year allowed for reading instruction are outscored by the TFA kids with five intense weeks.

    But I’d be stunned if the TFA five week summer class was *only* about reading instruction.

    In many/most other fields, a five week intense class does *NOT* result in people able to outscore those who have spent a full year on the subject. Think torts for lawyering. I’m sure there is something equivalent for medicine.

    Finally, if the TFA five week classes are this effective, maybe we ought to hire the trainers to teach in our ed schools? I’m sure that a two quarter (10 weeks × 2) program that resulted in teacher-to-be able to pass this test (and the other hypothetical ones) could be very attractive to a lot of young adults who would like to start working rather than spend 4 years in school …

    -Mark Roulo

  28. What Praxis test are you talking about? Because I got my math degree outside of California, I had to take not 1 but 2 math Praxis tests. My scores on them indicate that I studied, *not* that they were “creampuff” tests.