When it comes to preparing teachers to teach reading, Ohio’s ahead of the pack

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It’s no secret that teaching kids how to read is extremely important. Research shows that children who don’t read proficiently by the end of third grade are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma than proficient readers. And statistics on the impact of adult illiteracy are staggering: Low literacy costs the U.S. approximately $225 billion each year in crime, non-productivity in the workforce, and lost tax revenue due to unemployment.

The abundance of research on the importance of early literacy is the driving force behind policies like Ohio’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee. Under the guarantee, third graders who are unable to meet a minimum score on the state reading test are retained in third grade (with some exceptions) so they can receive extra support. The effectiveness of this policy depends greatly on the reading instruction that students receive, which in turn depends significantly on how well educators have been prepared to teach foundational reading concepts.

Although there’s no shortage of information about how best to teach reading—the Institute for Education Sciences (IES) released an important set of recommendations in July 2016, for example—teacher preparation programs aren’t necessarily integrating these methods into their training and development efforts. The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) has been evaluating the rigor and effectiveness of teacher training for years, and their teacher prep reviews include deep dives into early reading. They recently added to their impressive research portfolio with a small and concentrated data release that examines how states are pushing teacher prep programs to adopt reading instruction methods like those recommended by IES. Specifically, NCTQ considers whether states have a rigorous licensure test that evaluates prospective elementary and special education teachers’ mastery of evidence-based methods for teaching reading. (Special education teachers are included because reading disabilities are the primary reason that students are referred for special education services.)

According to NCTQ, the vast majority of states don’t require a sufficient test on the science of reading. Ohio, however, meets and even exceeds the bar. It’s one of only eleven states that require elementary and special education candidates to pass a high-quality test—which in Ohio’s case is called Foundations of Reading, and is part of the Ohio Assessments for Educators (OAE) licensure program for candidates seeking an initial state teaching license. Foundations of Reading is a computer-based assessment that comprises two written response questions and one hundred multiple choice questions covering four areas: 1) foundations of reading development; 2) development of reading comprehension; 3) reading assessment and instruction; and 4) integration of knowledge and understanding, which includes the written response questions. 

NCTQ also recommends that states “increase transparency regarding licensure assessment passage rates.” For the most part, Ohio does this, too. Its Department of Higher Education publishes educator performance reports each year that publicize statewide data on Ohio’s traditional teacher preparation, as well as individual reports on both public and private institutions.

Yet the Buckeye State falls short here in at least one important respect: The 2017 report, despite including passage rates for almost every OAE licensure test, is missing data on the Foundations of Reading assessment. It’s not clear why the test—required for eleven different teaching licenses, including every core subject license that’s offered in elementary and middle childhood education—was left off the list, but it’s a serious oversight that the state should remedy in this year’s report.

Overall, though, Ohioans should be proud of how their state prepares educators to teach reading. Its rigorous licensing requirements help ensure that teachers understand early literacy and the best methods for teaching it—knowledge and skills that are vital for effective instruction.

 
 
Jessica Poiner
Jessica Poiner is an education policy analyst in the Fordham Institute’s Columbus office. She was a 2011 Teach For America corps member who worked and taught in Shelby County Schools and the Achievement School District.