Credit: Alison Yin for EdSource (2014)

California is one of 11 states that “thoroughly tests candidates’ knowledge of the science of reading,” according to a new 50-state analysis released by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ). The report seemingly undercuts a lawsuit that a public interest law firm has filed against the state and top education officials for failing to effectively teach reading.

But Linda Darling-Hammond, the chair of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which oversees requirements and assessments for new teachers, said that the state’s two-decade-old Reading Instruction Competence Assessment that the analysis cited is long outdated, and she downplayed the test’s importance.

 “I don’t take issue that it’s probably useful” to test teacher candidates’ reading knowledge, but the state’s test “is not as predictive or as big a deal” as the report would indicate, she said. “If it were, California would have been knocking the socks off reading the last 20 years.”

For the past two decades, California 4th- and 8th-grade students have ranked near the bottom among states on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, although 8th-graders did show significant progress last year, rising to 37th in state rankings. Fourth-graders ranked 44th.

Last month, a judge in Superior Court in Los Angeles ruled that the public interest law firm Public Counsel and the firm of Morrison & Foerster could go to trial with their lawsuit claiming that state officials, including the State Board of Education and the California Department of Education, haven’t been teaching the state’s least advantaged children well enough to be proficient in reading and writing. Ella T. v. California was filed on behalf of 10 children in three elementary schools — in Los Angeles, Stockton and a charter school in Inglewood — with abysmal reading scores on state standardized tests and other assessments. Among their demands, plaintiffs want the courts to order that teachers be trained in a research-based reading curriculum and in instruction for struggling students, as well as be given adequate classroom resources.

From the NCTQ’s perspective, California’s teachers are at least starting off with the right training. While all states, the report said, “continue to struggle to persuade” some teacher preparation programs to include proven reading methods, it said only 11 states require a “sufficient reading test” for both elementary and special education teachers. California’s assessment “is one of the leading reading tests in the nation and thoroughly tests candidates’ knowledge of the science of reading,” the report said.

The organization also praised California’s standards behind the test for incorporating literacy in other subject areas, including science and social studies, as well as the requirement that new teachers demonstrate an ability to plan effective interventions for struggling readers.

But the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment, which was adopted in 1998, hasn’t been revised yet to include the Common Core standards in reading and writing or the new English language development standards for English learners, Darling-Hammond said. While strong in measuring knowledge of phonics and decoding — translating letters and words into language — it’s missing other key elements of reading instruction, she said.

Under another credential requirement, California’s Teaching Performance Assessment, all aspiring teachers must demonstrate how they teach reading in the classroom, she said. “Tests can be useful, but research shows the quality of course work is more important than a test as a predictor of success.”

What’s alarming, Darling-Hammond said, is that a significant proportion of the state’s new teachers haven’t taken the performance assessment, the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment or teacher preparation courses. Because of a teacher shortage overall in rural areas and in high-cost regions like the Bay Area and in subjects like special education statewide, new teachers are entering the classroom without a teaching credential. In 2016-17, about 10,000 teachers entered with temporary emergency permits or as intern teachers, who must earn their preliminary credential within the first two years in the classroom. Schools serving low-income, minority students — those that the Ella T. lawsuit would cover — are hiring a disproportionate number of underprepared teachers, according to a district survey by the Learning Policy Institute.

Darling-Hammond said that teacher preparation is but one ingredient of successful teaching and school achievement in reading. Other critical factors are good mentoring programs for new teachers, a strong curriculum and instructional materials and time for teacher collaboration, she said.

At the urging of Darling-Hammond and others, Gov. Jerry Brown included $125 million in the current budget to establish teacher “residency” programs that will place teachers in the classroom as teacher assistants while they earn their credentials, reducing the need for emergency permits.

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  1. Ann 3 months ago3 months ago

    So let’s be clear. This is stating that the RICA is a good measure of teachers’ understanding and skill at teaching reading. As can be seen from the comments below, many graduates of California ed schools cannot pass RICA. Data in California shows our students are not gaining adequate literacy. Darling-Hammond does her normal, dissing the test when the scores aren’t good.

  2. Thomas 3 months ago3 months ago

    I have taken the RICA twice and about to take it a third time. What Darling-Hammond needs to do is recommend to Gov. Brown is get rid of the RICA. The RICA measures the ability of the person to take test not the ability to teach reading in a classroom. Credential programs in the state teach teachers how to instruct reading in the classroom. This should be enough too get your initial … Read More

    I have taken the RICA twice and about to take it a third time. What Darling-Hammond needs to do is recommend to Gov. Brown is get rid of the RICA. The RICA measures the ability of the person to take test not the ability to teach reading in a classroom. Credential programs in the state teach teachers how to instruct reading in the classroom. This should be enough too get your initial credential and in the classroom. After 1 year in a credential program paying for another exam is nonproductive. Let’s solve the teacher shortage by getting teachers in the classroom.

  3. Dkel 3 months ago3 months ago

    When reviewing the research Darling-Hammond is using as her evidence that the current competency test is outdated, I was shocked at major gaps in the data collection phase. One study conducted by Barbara Foorman, University of Texas-Houston Medical School did not even address the fact that reading performance involves the students reading books at home. Demanding students read a certain number of books per month and then … Read More

    When reviewing the research Darling-Hammond is using as her evidence that the current competency test is outdated, I was shocked at major gaps in the data collection phase. One study conducted by Barbara Foorman, University of Texas-Houston Medical School did not even address the fact that reading performance involves the students reading books at home. Demanding students read a certain number of books per month and then have written forms of assessment to monitor comprehension and vocabulary building process used to be standard procedure. It is not in many classrooms today. Teachers should be able to implement and monitor the progress of the following skills, as promoted by the American Federation of Teachers:
    (1) direct teaching of decoding, comprehension, and literature appreciation;
    (2) phoneme awareness instruction;
    (3) systematic and explicit instruction in the code system of written English;
    (4) daily exposure to a variety of texts, as well as incentives for children to read independently;
    (5) vocabulary instruction that includes a variety of complementary methods designed to explore the relationships among words and the relationships among word structure, origin, and meaning;
    (6) comprehension strategies that include prediction of outcomes, summarizing, clarification, questioning, and visualization; and
    (7) frequent writing of prose to enable deeper understanding of what is read.
    It is sad Gov. Jerry Brown continues to spend millions on another educational program ($125 million to establish a “residency” program) but cannot direct the money in actually supporting with teachers with a cost of living increase or a stipend for school supplies or funding for professional development and continuing their education for those wanting a Masters in Reading and Language Instruction (California used to have this opportunity for educators). The goal to increase the reading levels of low income children must include the demand that the students and parents start reading a certain number of books at home.

  4. Sabrina 3 months ago3 months ago

    Thank you for bringing this to our attention. What’s not mentioned here is that students need school libraries, at the very least for access to books with choices for practice, practice, and practice. And only 10% of California schools have school librarians. Individual teachers no matter how good their strategies are, cannot supply the depth and breadth and accessibility of a real library.

  5. Anes 3 months ago3 months ago

    Well said. I believe the teacher prep test (RICA) I believe does not measure the effectiveness of a good teacher. The curriculum in teacher schooling is incorporated with all these skills. California is short of teachers because of this test. Mentorship and continued professional development in the job are what will raise reading and writing scores in California. Twenty years ago, these scores were high and the teacher-student ratio was low because teacher nurturing on … Read More

    Well said. I believe the teacher prep test (RICA) I believe does not measure the effectiveness of a good teacher. The curriculum in teacher schooling is incorporated with all these skills. California is short of teachers because of this test. Mentorship and continued professional development in the job are what will raise reading and writing scores in California.

    Twenty years ago, these scores were high and the teacher-student ratio was low because teacher nurturing on the job was practiced. Twenty years later, RICA = less teachers + high teacher/students ratio + low scores. Pearson, which wrote this test, never taught or gone through the program. CTC members never deal with the nitty gritty things in the classroom. One test exam does not measure how well a teacher will teach writing and reading. CTC, hear the cries of our students/parents and fellow teachers. State scores have proven right. No RICA, more teachers.