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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Teachers may not know how kids learn to read

How do children learn to read? Most states don’t require new elementary and special-education teachers to show they understand the “science of reading,” concludes a new 50-state analysis by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ).

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Even states that test the literacy knowledge of elementary teachers often exempt special-education teachers, notes NCTQ president Kate Walsh. Only 11 states “connect two rather self-evident dots—between children’s failure to learn how to read as the primary reason they are placed in special education (80%!) with the logical requirement that their special education teacher should know something about how to teach reading.”

The National Reading Panel settled the science on how children learn to read in a 2000 report, writes Kevin Mahnken on The 74. To end the “reading wars” pitting “whole language” against phonics, the report analyzed the research in phoemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

Yet, only 37 percent of  teacher education programs provide instruction in scientifically based methods of teaching reading, estimates NCTQ.

Experts on literacy, such as University of Wisconsin cognitive scientist Mark Seidenberg, claim that the science of reading too seldom filters down through teaching programs and into classrooms. As he explained in an interview with NPR earlier this year, “This basic science does not go into the preparation of teachers. More often they’re told it’s not really relevant, that the science is sterile and has no connection with what teachers do in the classroom.”

Would-be teachers “may bristle at more tests, more hoops to jump through and more barriers to overcome in order to get into the classroom,” writes Esther Cepeda, a teacher and Washington Post columnist. “It’s a fair complaint, given that most states use the edTPA, a highly rigorous, subject-specific assessment in order to gain certification.”

Still, having taken the edTPA within the past few years, I can say that it allowed me to demonstrate a high skill level in writing, direct instruction, group facilitation and communication. But it wasn’t designed to test my ability to explicitly and systematically teach phonics skills and phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.

If students have to prove their proficiency on tests, she asks, why shouldn’t teachers have to prove their proficiency?

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