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California is debating whether to revise or replace the reading instruction test candidates must pass to become credentialed elementary or special education teachers.

Tina Costantino-Lane

The Reading Instruction Competence Assessment, or RICA, seeks to ensure that teacher candidates for the multiple subjects and education specialist credentials are able to deliver a balanced reading curriculum based on ongoing assessment.

But so many credential candidates are struggling to pass this test, it is exacerbating the state’s teacher shortage. Moreover, there is no evidence that this test is improving either the teaching or learning of reading.

Having witnessed the frustration of many talented teacher candidates I’ve helped prepare for this exam, I’m glad the state is looking at revising the RICA. Here is why:

The test attempts to require all elementary school teachers be as competent as a reading specialist without the additional training. Passing requires more specialized knowledge than many credential candidates receive in their teacher preparation classes.

The test also gives too much weight to the case study section. This section, which makes up 20 percent of the score, consists of analyzing a student’s reading assessments and writing an instructional plan. Previously, a case study was done by a reading specialist, but now computer assessments are often used to identify struggling readers. Typically, a classroom teacher would not have the time to write up individual case studies.

It is also too broad. Teaching reading in the primary grades is very different from teaching reading in grades four through eight. Yet the focused educational problems and instructional tasks section (30 percent of the score) are essay questions based on scenarios from kindergarten to grade 8.

The multiple-choice section (50 percent of score) is laden with specialized vocabulary (such as phoneme, grapheme and morpheme) not needed for discussions with students or conferences with parents. Often there are similar answer choices, but test-takers have to choose one.

And on top of that, 10 questions that are indistinguishable from the other 60 questions, are being field-tested to be evaluated for future test administrations and do not count toward the student’s score though they take time and effort away from the rest of the test.

Here are suggestions based on my experience and input from my students for how revise the RICA:

  1. Drop the 10 questions that are being field-tested. It is unnerving that some multiple-choice questions do not count toward the final score.
  2. Split the test into separate primary and upper elementary tests. 
  3. Print the case study on paper. Many students noted difficulty in scrolling on the computer among five documents to try to find evidence of the same reading weakness. Provide test-takers with paper and pencils, rather than a felt-tip marker and a whiteboard, so they can outline their essay answers and mark up the case study documents.
  4. Split the scoring on the multiple-choice section and the essay assignments. Students who have taken the RICA several times say they do not know what to study because these scores are combined.
  5. Lengthen the time allowed to take the test. Four hours is not nearly enough time and candidates should be able to take a bathroom break without sacrificing precious minutes from the test.

My students are quite diverse but all share a frustration with the RICA.  Some have taken the test up to 10 times. Some have attended private colleges; others, state universities or the University of California. Six of my 18 students were men and seven were special education candidates; two interned in lieu of student teaching.

Six were second-career students, who entered the teacher credential program in their 40s or 50s. Some of my students did their student-teaching in grade three or higher and some of the education specialist candidates did student-teaching in math or social studies.

Consequently, many did not have the benefit of learning from a master teacher the art and science of teaching reading in the early grades.

My students say that the RICA erodes their self-confidence, challenges their mental stamina, and has made them rethink their goal of becoming a teacher.

I trust that revisions will happen soon; it would be a shame to lose these dedicated and enthusiastic future teachers at a time when the state is experiencing a teacher shortage.

•••

Tina Costantino-Lane, is a RICA tutor. Prior to retiring, she worked as a reading specialist, instructional coach and classroom teacher in Chino Valley Unified School District and as an adjunct professor of education at University of La Verne

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  1. Tina Costantino-Lane 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    Hi Ann, I am a retired educator having spent 40 years teaching in the K-12 system. I do not make my living this way, I fell into the role of tutor quite by accident after helping a family friend who had difficulty passing. My students have finished their course work, classroom observations, and all but one of them have already finished student teaching. All of them have gone to teacher prep courses and purchased various RICA … Read More

    Hi Ann,
    I am a retired educator having spent 40 years teaching in the K-12 system. I do not make my living this way, I fell into the role of tutor quite by accident after helping a family friend who had difficulty passing.

    My students have finished their course work, classroom observations, and all but one of them have already finished student teaching. All of them have gone to teacher prep courses and purchased various RICA prep books but they still didn’t pass the RICA. Many already have a master’s degree. Perhaps there is a disconnect between the test developers and what is taught in teacher credential programs. My students are appreciative for the encouragement and knowledge I give them so they can pass the RICA and obtain a position in their chosen profession.

  2. Ann 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    Where to start. Let’s just say the audacity of a person who makes a living preparing students to take the RICA and then, when her own students can’t pass has no credibility with regard to changing the test! As someone who is in elementary education at a school I can attest to the dearth of ed school preparation of teaching the cognitive science of reading. But don’t take my observable word, read for yourself. https://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/teaching_now/2020/01/more_teacher_prep_programs_are_teaching_the_science_of_reading_review_finds.html

  3. Tina Costantino-Lane 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    Hi Jim,
    Thanks for sharing your son’s story. Congrats to him for persevering! My students have had similar experiences. I do wonder about the scoring of the RICA because my two most recent students took the test twice and the second time their scores plummeted over 20 points!

  4. Jim J 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    I work for a school district in Ventura County. I am a classified employee and my wife is also a classified employee. We have two children who are teachers in our district. One is a single subject, secondary teacher. The other is a multi-subject, elementary teacher. RICA came into our family and was such a negative force that we thought our son (the multi-subject teacher) would not get a job. This … Read More

    I work for a school district in Ventura County. I am a classified employee and my wife is also a classified employee. We have two children who are teachers in our district. One is a single subject, secondary teacher. The other is a multi-subject, elementary teacher.

    RICA came into our family and was such a negative force that we thought our son (the multi-subject teacher) would not get a job. This is a person who put himself through college, has accolades from private schools he taught for and was facing a “no hire” in the district we are associated with because of RICA. He had spent $40K to be a teacher. He had passed everything else and was teaching. I am not an expert, but from my perspective, RICA was about to sink his ship to become a teacher.

    I went so far as to talk with our Superintendent. He advised me that our son was very talented and he was confident that he would prevail if he kept at it. My son tried over and over again. Finally, he prevailed and today he is a teacher. It may seem silly, but I hold a copy of his RICA scores in my closet so I can be reminded that he passed! I am so proud of him, but hate the system and what may happen for other teachers who should be in the classroom.

    It is absolutely ridiculous that any teacher should be held up to teach because of RICA .

    It was so bad that my son was going to give up on teaching despite our family history (my mom teaching and subbing for 50 years) and encouragement.

    That is wrong!

    Today, my son, teaches 24 4-year old students in TK every day. It is not common for a male to perform these duties and he loves his kids. I help him set up the classroom every Sunday and I am so proud of him. RICA almost took away a great teacher who has impressed our district and made a huge impact on his students. One mom said her daughter was afraid of men. She did not know what to do when she realized my son was the teacher. Within the first week, her daughter grabbed his leg and he let her follow him around the classroom. Shortly thereafter, he worked with the mother and the student was comfortable and engaged in the class. This would not have happened with RICA failing the teacher.

    The Superintendent recently sent him a pair of “alligator socks” saying that he “knocked his socks off” after visiting his class.

    RICA needs to go. Tests like this are only money makers for the companies involved and do not help our teachers engage with students.

    I am so happy I found this post to help this movement.

  5. Dr. Bill Conrad 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    While it is admirable to consider improvements to the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment, or RICA, one should ensure that these recommendations are based upon sound arguments and not the logical fallacies promoted in this article. Arguing that the test must be revised because teacher candidates fail to pass the test exacerbating the California teacher shortage is an argument from fallacy. If teacher candidates are failing the RICA test, it may actually mean that the … Read More

    While it is admirable to consider improvements to the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment, or RICA, one should ensure that these recommendations are based upon sound arguments and not the logical fallacies promoted in this article. Arguing that the test must be revised because teacher candidates fail to pass the test exacerbating the California teacher shortage is an argument from fallacy. If teacher candidates are failing the RICA test, it may actually mean that the candidates are not qualified to teach reading. Ensuring that we have more teachers who do not know how to teach reading does a disservice to the children and families who depend upon teachers to really know how to teach reading. Special pleading that promotes the need to hire more teachers exempting the teachers from solid knowledge of teaching reading represents a serious logical fallacy.

    Teaching reading is the number one job of elementary teachers. Arguing that elementary teachers do not need to have deep and fundamental understanding of teaching reading including important concepts, vocabulary, and pedagogy is a fallacious argument. Rather than make the test easier, it would be more important to ensure the teacher training programs ensure that prospective teachers understand how students learn to read and how to teach it well!

    Including field test items on a standardized test are required to ensure that the test maintains validity and reliability and should not unnerve teacher candidates. It might be appropriate for the colleges of education to enhance assessment literacy so that questions about field test items do not become a point of contention.

    The author argues for some technical changes to the assessment that may provide some benefit. The real issue though is that there continues to be uncertainty within the education field around the theory of action about how to teach reading. Until this How to Teach Reading theory of action is resolved, no amount of technical changes will improve the test. As long as educators continue to advocate for the magical thinking of balanced reading and continue to eschew the more scientific basis for teaching reading espoused by the National Reading Panel, no amount of test tinkering will improve professional practices or reading outcomes for students. Real test improvement will require transformational change and not the technical changes advocated in this article.

    Replies

    • Tina Costantino-Lane 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

      Hi Bill, When I took the GRE I answered several questions that were being field tested. They were presented after the test and were clearly marked as such. This is a much kinder way to accomplish a necessary task. As for the specialized vocabulary on the RICA, I did not learn these terms until I was in the reading specialist program. The vast majority of the students I tutor struggle with this aspect. There … Read More

      Hi Bill,
      When I took the GRE I answered several questions that were being field tested. They were presented after the test and were clearly marked as such. This is a much kinder way to accomplish a necessary task. As for the specialized vocabulary on the RICA, I did not learn these terms until I was in the reading specialist program. The vast majority of the students I tutor struggle with this aspect. There are other more important concepts that the RICA should focus on.

      • Dr, Bill Conrad 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

        Hi Tina, I am afraid that you demonstrate some assessment illiteracy. Based upon Item Response Theory, assessments must be considered more than just a collection of discrete assessment items. Assessments are holistic in nature and the items are organized around several essential ideas along a continuum of cognitive complexity. Pulling items out of context for a “gentler” presentation would not be supported as it is critical that all items including field test items be carefully … Read More

        Hi Tina,

        I am afraid that you demonstrate some assessment illiteracy. Based upon Item Response Theory, assessments must be considered more than just a collection of discrete assessment items. Assessments are holistic in nature and the items are organized around several essential ideas along a continuum of cognitive complexity. Pulling items out of context for a “gentler” presentation would not be supported as it is critical that all items including field test items be carefully integrated into an overall holistic assessment in order to validly and reliably measure how well they contribute to the overall effectiveness of the assessment. It is not how many items that you get right on assessment that counts. It is the type of items that you respond to correctly. Items are organized around essential ideas from least complex to most complex. More complex items are assigned higher scale score values than less complex items. Answering the entire lower complex items aligned to key ideas will still give you a lower scale score than answering more complex items aligned with the key ideas.

        With regard to reading concepts and vocabulary, it is imperative that prospective elementary teachers fully understand the cognitive science concepts and vocabulary aligned with the five essential ideas identified in the scientific approach to teaching reading. They should also be well versed in reading pedagogy and assessment. Of course, it will be a bit of a struggle for students but all learning involves some degree of struggle. As Ann says, it’s not rocket science!

    • Ann 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

      “… continues to be uncertainty within the education field around the theory of action about how to teach reading”. Sorry, Bill there is no uncertainty. It is settled cognitive science. What there is is resistance by certain elements of the education establishment.

      • Dr. Bill Conrad 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

        Not so fast Ann! The K-12 Education community consists of more than the cognitive scientists who advocate for the scientifically supported theory of action for teaching reading! Of course, I fully support that researchers, practitioners and administrators embrace the scientific approach to teaching reading advocated by the National Reading Panel. Unfortunately, many practitioners and administrators do not embrace the scientific approach to teaching reading and that is why I made the comment. When I was the … Read More

        Not so fast Ann!

        The K-12 Education community consists of more than the cognitive scientists who advocate for the scientifically supported theory of action for teaching reading! Of course, I fully support that researchers, practitioners and administrators embrace the scientific approach to teaching reading advocated by the National Reading Panel.

        Unfortunately, many practitioners and administrators do not embrace the scientific approach to teaching reading and that is why I made the comment. When I was the Assessment Director in the Santa Clara Unified School District, I reported on the abysmal reading performance of students in grade 3 especially for children of color. I engaged in meeting with grade level teams to elicit reasons for the poor performance.

        During one kindergarten teacher team meeting, I asked the teachers and the reading coach if they knew the difference between phonemic awareness and phonics. None did. They asked me if I could provide support for them to better understand and use these fundamental reading ideas. I told them that I would bring up their request with the Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning as well as the Director of Elementary Education. These “leaders” ridiculed my request and dragged out a worn out binder where they showed me the pages with definitions of phonemic awareness and phonics. They rudely told me that all teachers have received the binder and of course understood the difference between phonemic awareness and phonics.

        I was told to end attending grade level meetings and stick to visualizing assessment data! And therein lies the problem!

      • Dr. Bill Conrad 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

        Hello Ann, The reality is that the scientific approach to teaching reading advocated by the National Reading Panel is not fully accepted within the education research community or by practitioners. The Balanced Reading approach that is all the vogue in education gives a wink and a nod to phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary that forms the basis for the scientific approach to learning and teaching reading. It is as if a little bit of … Read More

        Hello Ann,

        The reality is that the scientific approach to teaching reading advocated by the National Reading Panel is not fully accepted within the education research community or by practitioners. The Balanced Reading approach that is all the vogue in education gives a wink and a nod to phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary that forms the basis for the scientific approach to learning and teaching reading. It is as if a little bit of this and a little bit of that will result in producing successful readers. Imagine the profession of medicine combining patient bleeding with antibiotics to cure infectious disease in a Balanced approach to medicine! Nonsense!

        The Balanced Reading Approach (aka Whole Language) is still supported and advanced by educational luminaries and “researchers” such as Marie Clay. The theory of action of the Balanced Reading Approach advocates that reading be taught in the same way that children acquire oral language through exposure and imitation. Balanced Reading Programs like Fountas Pinnell reify this failed theory of action through a curriculum and pedagogy based on providing students with leveled readers assuming that students will advance in reading skill through exposure to increasingly complex reading materials. They also throw in a bogus assessment system to buttress their house of cards. This “research” based program is alive and well in many school districts within the country. It is supported by “researchers,” practitioners, and administrators.

        It is truly a crime to think of how many students have failed to learn to read because of this failed program and theory of action. Over half of the 3rd graders in CA cannot read. Educators are too willing to label and blame the children for this failure when they should be looking in the mirror. However, no students have died (or have they?) because educators failed to pursue science-based teaching and learning. We continue to retain students even though Hattie and others has shown that retention actually subtracts knowledge from students. K-12 education operates in a fog seeking educational baubles that shine like gold but are really worthless pyrite!

        We can only hope that the children will rise up and begin to resist the buffoonery that masquerades as education.

        • ann 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

          Oh believe me, you are preaching to the choir Dr. Conrad.

  6. Marga Madhuri 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    Hey Tina,

    Great article! I wholly concur. I wonder, though, if splitting the content into two tests limits the credential? Or will they decide you now have to take it twice? What about a waiver program, like they have for CSET? If your teacher ed program meets criteria, you don’t have to take it at all. I agree that this is a social justice issue, and we are weeding out what would be excellent teachers.

    Thank you for posting. Hope all is well.

    Replies

    • Tina Costantino-Lane 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

      Hi Marga, It would be ideal if teacher education programs meet criteria, then the RICA could be eliminated. A reading instruction competency test could be embedded in the coursework. However, some schools of education are not preparing their credential candidates to teach reading. One of my students, who attended a state university in Southern California, said that all 25 students in her cohort failed the RICA. Another student , attending the same school, said her literacy professor … Read More

      Hi Marga,
      It would be ideal if teacher education programs meet criteria, then the RICA could be eliminated. A reading instruction competency test could be embedded in the coursework.

      However, some schools of education are not preparing their credential candidates to teach reading. One of my students, who attended a state university in Southern California, said that all 25 students in her cohort failed the RICA. Another student , attending the same school, said her literacy professor cancelled class more times than she taught it. Both students were only required to buy RICA prep books for their courses and did not have a literacy textbook to study.

      Students attending other schools said that they only took one literacy course or only had a general class in English Language Arts. A few education specialist candidates said the emphasis in their programs was on assessment and not on how to teach reading. What would help is more consistency in teacher education programs and assurances that professors of the literacy courses are knowledgeable.

      • Ann 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

        I don’t understand. You are their tutor. Why could you not teach them what they ostensibly did not learn in their ed school? Frankly, it’s not rocket science.