The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) just issued an important report, Teacher Prep Review, 2020, Program Performance in Early Reading Instruction, about the quality of teacher preparation programs in reading in colleges across the nation. The report shines a lot of light on one major reason why Mississippi just outscored Kentucky for both white and black student reading and math performance on the 2019 Grade 4 National Assessment of Educational Progress. Clearly, the NCTQ report deserves attention from education policy makers in Kentucky.
The NCTQ assembled a team of reading experts to examine the quality of each teacher preparation program’s “planned lecture topics, assigned readings, assignments, assessments, and opportunities for practice.” Every textbook was also examined to see “if it accurately supported none, some, or all of the five components of scientifically-based reading instruction, and is based on consensus research.”
The report lists those five components of scientifically-based reading instruction as:
(1) Students’ awareness of the sounds made by spoken words (phonemic awareness);
(2) Systematically mapping those speech sounds onto letters and letter combinations (phonics);
(3) Giving students extended practice for reading words so that they learn to read without a lot of effort (fluency) — allowing them to devote their mental energy to the meaning of the text;
(4) Building student vocabulary, a skill closely associated with the final component;
(5) Developing their students’ understanding of what is being read to them and eventually what they will read themselves (comprehension).
So, how did the Ed Schools in various states rank for their programs? The graphic in Figure 1 from the NCTQ report tells the story.
As you can see, as of this recent NCTQ evaluation, Kentucky’s education schools, on average, are only covering three of the five key areas of strong reading instruction. And, this apparently is improved from earlier times since the NCTQ report shows that Kentucky had made “moderate” improvement since 2016 to reach even this partial level of accomplishment as of 2020.
In sharp contrast to Kentucky’s partial performance, Mississippi is at the very top of the list in 2020. Virtually all the education schools in the Magnolia State now cover all the essentials of good reading instruction with their teacher candidates.
By the way, not every college in Kentucky is doing a bad job teaching reading, as shown by individual college grades in Figure 2. Here are grades for the colleges the NCTQ examined in 2020. Campbellsville, EKU, Morehead, Murray and UK are apparently doing a solid job, and a number of other schools are not too far behind.
Source: National Council on Teacher Quality. (2020). Early Reading. Teacher Prep Review. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/review/search/standard/Early-Reading
The problem is that not quite half of the schools in the list perform at the other end of the spectrum. A most shocking listing here is U of L, which does an “F” graded job of how to teach reading in both its undergraduate and graduate programs. That needs attention!
Keep in mind that the vast majority of Kentucky’s elementary school teachers come from the state’s own education schools. So, the story here is pretty compelling.
For one thing, many of the state’s elementary school teachers came through their preparation programs at a time when coverage of all reading topics was poorer than it is today. Unless these currently working teachers took the initiative on their own to fill in the gaps from their Ed School preparation, these working teachers are probably not very proficient at teaching reading and need help to improve. Even worse, if they serve in a school where all the other teachers experienced similar deficits in their college preparation, these teachers might not even understand the problem.
For another thing, even now, with a notable number of Kentucky’s Ed Schools only providing incomplete coverage of all the areas needed for strong reading instruction, the situation is going to continue to be unsatisfactory in the Bluegrass State until such time as both the Ed Schools and the teachers already in the system get on track the way Mississippi already has done.
Finally, a status quo education situation, which Kentucky seems to be sliding into at present, isn’t going to make any of this happen anytime soon. We are going to have to light some fires under some of the education policy makers in this state to change that.