North Dakota teacher prep programs need help

According to experts and an ever-growing body of research, a scientifically based reading program is the most effective way to improve literacy. But inconsistency in how teachers are prepared to teach reading has contributed to a literacy crisis in our state and across the country. We can’t expect students to learn to read if teachers leading the instruction aren’t properly prepared and supported to do so.

recent in-depth analysis of North Dakota’s elementary teacher preparation programs by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) found that not even a third (only 29 percent) adequately address all five core components of scientifically based reading instruction — phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Perhaps even more concerning, 29 percent of these teacher prep programs do not adequately address any of the five components sufficiently.

While all five components interconnect and are critical to develop strong readers, “phonemic awareness helps lay the foundation for reading” and receives the least attention across programs, according to NCTQ. In fact, 71 percent of teacher prep programs in North Dakota fail to adequately address phonemic awareness. Not even half adequately address vocabulary or reading comprehension.

Additionally, teacher prep programs are struggling to provide aspiring educators opportunities to practice applying their knowledge of the reading concepts, such as through “one-on-one tutoring with a student, administering a mock assessment to fellow teacher candidates, or conducting a lesson during a field experience,” continues NCTQ.

Over half (57 percent) of North Dakota teacher prep programs fail to give their teacher candidates any opportunity to practice teaching phonemic awareness or vocabulary. The NCTQ assigned the same percentage of teacher prep programs (57 percent) an “F” grade overall on teaching reading foundations. One teacher prep program in the state, at Dickinson State University, earned an “A.”

With over half (56 percent) of North Dakota students not reading at grade level, as measured by the North Dakota State Assessment, it is clear changes are needed.

From teacher prep programs considering “how to modify existing courses to include more scientifically based reading instruction” and using high-quality materials that “cover the components of reading in sufficient depth” to school districts providing professional development opportunities for teachers already in the classroom who weren’t prepared in scientifically based reading instruction practices, there are exemplar resources from high-performing programs that provide Minnesota an array of promising practices to pull from to reduce the rate of reading failure.

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.

Program Grades