Analysis: North Dakota’s reading licensure test is weak

The licensure test North Dakota uses to measure elementary teachers’ knowledge of reading instruction is weak, according to a new study by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ).

More than half of states use a weak reading licensure test, causing elementary teachers to “enter classrooms with false assurances that they’re ready to teach reading” and the districts that hire them with “false assurances that those teachers are adequately prepared,” according to the NCTQ.

North Dakota uses the Praxis Elementary Education: Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, which does not adequately address phonemic awareness, fluency, and vocabulary, according to the NCTQ. These components of reading, along with phonics and comprehension, have been identified through decades of research as essential knowledge teachers need to successfully deliver scientifically based reading instruction.

Intended to serve as a “final check” before teachers earn a license and begin leading a classroom, weak reading licensure tests not only leaves teachers unprepared to help students but then leaves students without access to teachers who have the knowledge and skills to teach reading.

“This lack of reading ability sets these children up for a future in which they’re less likely to graduate high school, less likely to have gainful employment, and less likely to be able to build the life they want and deserve,” notes the NCTQ.

In North Dakota, 56 percent of students aren’t reading at grade-level, as measured by the state’s most recent standard test. Among 3rd graders, 60 percent aren’t proficient readers. Low literacy rates can be seen on national assessment data as well.

As NCTQ points out, “…[T]hese low literacy rates are because we are not giving students access to teachers with the skills and knowledge to teach reading.”

Because “states select and approve the tests that their teachers must pass for licensure,” NCTQ recommends state leaders transition to a stronger reading licensure test. While it may require some effort, it “will likely lead to better reading instruction in elementary classrooms across the state.” With a stronger licensure test, teacher preparation programs in North Dakota, which struggle to effectively prepare teacher candidates to teach reading instruction, “will be motivated to align their courses with the components of reading,” concludes NCTQ. NCTQ identifies the Foundations of Reading test, now used in 11 states, as a notably strong assessment.

It will take time, it will take dedication, and it won’t happen overnight. But given that we have had more than 50 years of research on effective literacy instruction, and yet have struggled to prioritize necessary changes, here’s a call to arms for courageous policy and education leaders willing to set clear expectations, measure progress, and promote accountability to help get literacy in North Dakota closer to where it needs to be.