New data show that teacher candidates from the INSPIRE TEXAS program are surpassing the state’s passing rates on the new Science of Teaching Reading exam. The exam became required effective January 1, 2021, as a result of House Bill 3 (HB3) that was passed by the 86th Texas Legislature. This bill “established the requirement that all teacher candidates who teach students in grades Pre-K to 6 demonstrate proficiency in the science of teaching reading on a new, standalone certification exam.” (Texas Education Agency 2022) Additionally, candidates seeking certification in grades 4–8 for core subjects, English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR), or ELAR/Social Studies are required to adhere to HB3’s science of teaching reading requirements.
INSPIRE TEXAS | Educator Certification by Region 4 Education Service Center (INSPIRE TEXAS) candidates have demonstrated success in meeting the requirements of the Science of Teaching Reading certification exam. The Innovation Center 4 Educator Preparation reached out to learn more about this success and INSPIRE TEXAS’s ongoing efforts to support candidates as they develop literacy best practices. Stefanie Perry, an Education Specialist with INSPIRE TEXAS, spoke with us.
Why a focus on literacy?
Success in reading is essential throughout a student’s school career and into adulthood. Numerous reports have shown that the consequences of leaving school without basic reading skills are profound at the individual student level and for society as a whole. Literacy instruction is complex, and learning to teach reading is a practice that needs to begin in preservice training.
Teacher candidates must demonstrate a solid understanding of the foundations of teaching reading to be ready to meet the needs of students at every grade level. Literacy best practices include the understanding of the sequential nature of teaching reading, the developmental progression of reading skills, and the ability to understand where students struggle as readers. When teachers are prepared with a strong literacy foundation, they are better equipped to identify existing reading development gaps and to scaffold reading instruction that yields students’ reading gains and achievement of grade level standards.
What is the research behind the science of reading?
Reading is the process of constructing meaning, rather than applying skills in isolation. With the science of teaching reading requirement, teacher candidates are expected to demonstrate knowledge of research-based strategies and best practices for delivering explicit, systematic phonics instruction.
Reading is not an inherited skill that students can develop alone. In the Simple View of Reading, we see how students read successfully when they can read with accuracy and comprehend the text. In 2001, Dr. Scarborough’s research further developed the essential components of the simple view of reading into multiple strands within both fluency and comprehension. Teacher candidates must be able to understand the importance of teaching these strands separately and explicitly, but also how the skills develop interactively. Successful readers apply these components as they interact with the text.
The HB3 Science of Teaching Reading Exam mandate took effect January 1, 2021. How did INSPIRE TEXAS prepare to support candidates?
INSPIRE TEXAS created a 15-week-long course in the science of teaching reading that teaches our candidates the reading development progression, from phonemic awareness as a foundational literacy skill to reading comprehension where students read grade-level texts for meaning. The course provides our candidates with tools necessary for any teacher, at any grade level, to support students as they develop into successful readers. Being part of the Region 4 Education Service Center made it possible to have internal collaboration with Reading/Language Arts Solutions education specialists who reviewed the course for content alignment.
During the course, teacher candidates have opportunities to complete performance-based assessments, based on real world scenarios with students struggling in a variety of areas of reading. During these assessments, candidates must identify the student’s strengths and deficits and then prescribe the best support for that student. I believe the application part of our Science of Teaching Reading course is the most impactful because it provides our candidates with the space for practice and reflection through constructed responses that they will see in the Science of Teaching Reading certification exam.
Starting January 1, 2021, candidates began taking the Science of Teaching Reading exam. What are the data showing for INSPIRE TEXAS?
We are very proud of what our data show. During the introductory period, from January 1, 2021, to August 31, 2022, we had a 100% passing rate. With the inclusion of the cut score (effective September 2021), we have been able to maintain a 95% passing rate as compared to the state’s passing rate of 88%.
When we break down these data by domain, our candidates also outperformed the state on each of the four tested domains (Domain I—Reading Pedagogy, Domain II—Reading Development: Foundational Skills, Domain III—Reading Development: Comprehension, and Domain IV—Analysis and Response).
What is next for INSPIRE TEXAS and the Science of Teaching Reading?
We are proud to be able to offer robust literacy coursework that has proven to be well-rounded preparation for our teacher candidates, as well as candidates in other programs. Additionally, we have received positive feedback from our candidates who are also required to engage in Reading Academy training to meet their district’s requirements. They are able to see the alignment of the preparation and in-service literacy training and can make connections that have strengthened their sense of efficacy in the classroom.
Like with any great course, we have already engaged in revision cycles. We just completed the first iteration of these revisions. We looked at our data (scores and candidate and course instructor feedback) and made revisions to the course based on that. Moving forward, we would like to refine the formative assessments embedded throughout the course, perhaps including video and reflection responses from our candidates’ own students. That will really make these assessments even more authentic and relevant.
While we want to make sure that our scores remain where they are now, this is not the main reason for doing the work we do. Our true goal and our why is to provide our candidates with the tools necessary to walk into any classroom in Texas and be able to support every student, regardless of their reading skills and abilities.
Texas Education Agency. n.d. “The Science of Teaching Reading (STR) Exam.” Retrieved from https://tea.texas.gov/texas-educators/certification/educator-testing/the-science-of-teaching-reading-str-exam.