Aspiring early childhood and elementary school teachers will have to prove they know how to teach reading on a test the State Board of Education has added to Connecticut's teacher certification requirements. The change, which was made Wednesday, comes amid worries about stagnating or declining student reading scores statewide and concerns that not all state teachers know the mechanics of teaching reading.
"This sends a message to teacher preparation institutions that they need to make sure they have a focus on the art and science of teaching reading," state Department of Education spokesman Tom Murphy said.
Introducing a test on teaching reading was among the recommendations offered by educators at a reading summit the state education department held last fall. Legislators also have pushed for adding a test on reading instruction to certification requirements.
Richard L. Schwab, dean of the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut, said the state board's adoption of an existing reading exam seemed like a reasonable step.
"If that's going to reassure the state that our students are well-prepared to teach reading, then we'll make sure all of our students pass it," he said.
Neag officials will have to analyze the test to determine if it requires any adjustment to what the school teaches, Schwab said.
Margie B. Gillis, project director of the Haskins Literacy Initiative, which works with teachers on reading instruction skills, described the introduction of the test as a "very positive step in the right direction."
Many things can be taught by someone who just knows how to do them, she said, but not reading.
"That may be true for riding a bicycle, that may be true for driving a car," said Gillis, a senior scientist at Haskins Laboratories in New Haven. "Unfortunately, reading is not that. It's so complex that it requires knowledge of language."
Research suggests that effectively teaching reading requires knowing how to break down a language system and explain the pieces to children, she said. "We're not adequately training teachers to do this very important job," she said. "I don't think we've recognized fully how difficult a job it is."
The test will be required for certification for early childhood and elementary school teachers beginning July 1, 2009. Massachusetts requires the same test for certification, and state officials said that having teacher preparation programs in both states aligned to the same standards could help bring Massachusetts teachers to Connecticut.
The cost of the test is expected to be covered by the $130 fee test-takers pay, according to a report the test company, Pearson Education Inc., prepared for the state education department.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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