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Ask A REL Response

January 2021


What research has been conducted to determine if licensure assessment specific to reading instruction is a reliable indicator of effective teaching that leads to early literacy achievement?


Following an established REL Southeast research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles to determine if licensure assessment specific to reading instruction is a reliable indicator of effective teaching that leads to early literacy achievement. We focused on identifying resources that determine if licensure assessment specific to reading instruction is a reliable indicator of effective teaching that leads to early literacy achievement. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, and general Internet search engines (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. These references are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. Also, we searched the references in the response from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist.

Research References

  1. Berkeley, S., Regan, K., Dimitrov, D., Guckert, Mary., & Ray, S. (2016). Teachers' basic knowledge of reading instruction: Insights from a teacher preparation program. Teacher Educators' Journal, 9, 23-48.
    From the abstract: "Effective reading instruction is essential for all students, and especially students with disabilities; however, studies have indicated that both pre-service and in-service teachers lack an adequate knowledge of reading. To ensure adequate teacher knowledge, teacher preparation reform advocates suggest purposeful alignment of teacher preparation curricula, candidate competency standards, and teaching licensure requirements. Instructors in the participating special education program have followed this recommendation by aligning the curriculum of a required developmental reading course to the state's teaching competencies for reading, and assessing the teaching and learning of these competencies through the administration of the Common Assessment of Special Education Teachers-Reading (CAST-R) across all course sections. Findings of this study show that teacher candidate performance on the CAST-R is an accurate predictor of performance on the state test of reading instruction knowledge required for teaching licensure in special education. Implications are discussed."
  2. Binks-Cantrell, E., Joshi, R. M., & Washburn, E. K. (2012). Validation of an instrument for assessing teacher knowledge of basic language constructs of literacy. Annals of Dyslexia, 62(3), 153-171.
    From the abstract: "Recent national reports have stressed the importance of teacher knowledge in teaching reading. However, in the past, teachers' knowledge of language and literacy constructs has typically been assessed with instruments that are not fully tested for validity. In the present study, an instrument was developed; and its reliability, item difficulty, and item discrimination were computed and examined to identify model fit by applying exploratory factor analysis. Such analyses showed that the instrument demonstrated adequate estimates of reliability in assessing teachers' knowledge of language constructs. The implications for professional development of in-service teachers as well as preservice teacher education are also discussed."
  3. Stotsky, S. (2009). Licensure tests for special education teachers: How well they assess knowledge of reading instruction and mathematics? Journal of Learning Disabilities, 42(5), 464-474.
    From the abstract: "To determine the extent to which knowledge of evidence-based reading instruction and mathematics is assessed on licensure tests for prospective special education teachers, this study drew on information provided by Educational Testing Service (ETS), the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, and National Evaluation Systems (now Evaluation Systems group of Pearson). It estimated the percentage of test items on phonemic awareness, phonics, and vocabulary knowledge and on mathematics content. It also analyzed descriptions of ETS's tests of "principles of teaching and learning." Findings imply that prospective special education teachers should be required to take both a dedicated test of evidence-based reading instructional knowledge, as in California, Massachusetts, and Virginia, and a test of mathematical knowledge, as in Massachusetts. States must design their own tests of teaching principles to assess knowledge of evidence-based educational theories. (Contains 3 tables and 3 notes.)"
  4. Stotsky, S. (2006). Why American students do not learn to read very well: The unintended consequences of title II and teacher testing. Third Education Group Review, 2(2), 1-37.
    From the abstract: "The 1998 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act requires states to report annually to the U.S. Department of Education the number of prospective teachers at each of their teacher training institutions who pass the state's tests for licensure. However, the law left decisions on what licensure tests to require, what to assess on them, and their passing scores up to each state. This paper provides an analysis of the descriptions of the subject tests assessing reading instructional knowledge that prospective elementary teachers in this country take for licensure: those offered by Educational Testing Service, a variety of those provided by National Evaluation Systems, and the one offered by American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence. I examined these descriptions to determine whether the tests appear to address three major components of a research-based approach to reading pedagogy (instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, and vocabulary knowledge), the weights attached to knowledge of these three components, and the quality of the sample questions they provide. In order to estimate the percentage of test items addressing these three components on each test, I drew on information on the websites of the three major organizations that develop teacher tests as well as of the states that have contracts with NES. To judge by the topics mentioned in the profile for the tests that states require for elementary licensure and the weights attached to the sections of the test containing these topics, most of ETS's tests devote a tiny proportion of their content to these three components. These tests are used by over 35 states for licensure. The profiles of the tests developed by NES for its client states for elementary licensure range from some that are similar to the ETS tests to some that substantially address these three components. I also analyzed the profiles of the tests required for licensure as a reading teacher, reading specialist, early childhood teacher, or special education teacher. This extended analysis was undertaken to determine the extent to which professional preparation programs may be accountable for teaching these four other groups of educators what they need to know to support or supplement the reading pedagogy provided by elementary classroom teachers. To judge by the online information provided by the testing companies, tests for licensing reading teachers and reading specialists range from a few NES tests that seem to assess these components fully to other NES and ETS tests that seem to address them quite meagerly. Alarmingly, the tests most states require for licensing special education and early childhood teachers do not address these components at all. In addition, ETS offers a set of pedagogical tests of "principles of teaching and learning," required by many states for the initial license of all teachers in addition to a subject test, that, to judge from its sample questions, seems to denigrate non-constructivist approaches to pedagogy. The findings of this study suggest that even a drastic revision of currently deficient licensure tests for prospective elementary teachers to ensure they are taught a research-based approach to reading pedagogy will not be sufficient to guarantee the use of such an approach. What is needed is systematic revision of all licensure tests for those who teach children or who supervise or supplement the work of those who do to make sure that they all promote a researchbased approach to reading pedagogy. (Contains 2 tables and 2 footnotes.)"


Keywords and Search Strings
The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • reading certification, teacher quality, student achievement
  • preservice teacher licensure for elementary reading
  • teacher preparation, reading licensure assessment
  • assessing teacher knowledge of reading instruction, impact on student achievement
  • assessing preservice teachers reading instruction knowledge
  • preservice teacher licensure for elementary reading

Databases and Resources
We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and PsychInfo.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published for last 15 years, from 2003 to present, were include in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, JSTOR database, PsychInfo, PsychArticle, and Google Scholar.
  • Methodology: Following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types - randomized control trials,, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, etc., generally in this order (b) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, etc.), study duration, etc. (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, etc.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Southeast Region (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast at Florida State University. This memorandum was prepared by REL Southeast under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0011, administered by Florida State University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.