Why teachers need more training in reading skills

Teachers may need more help teaching reading skills. (Photo: Tim Pierce)

As the U.S. pushes hard to reform its education system, it’s troubling to learn that three in 10 teachers failed a licensing exam in Connecticut on the science of teaching reading. The exam, according to a story in The Connecticut Mirror, emphasizes phonics, fluency and other skills needed to teach young readers.

Teachers have been asked to take the test in Connecticut because of State Board of Education concerns about poor performance of elementary school students in reading, particularly among low-income and minority students who are far below their more affluent and white classmates in reading and math. The test has nearly 200 multiple-choice questions and two essays, and, according to the story, “is designed to test knowledge of teaching methods that reflect a rigorous approach to reading instruction, including phonics.”

The low passing-rate of teachers in Connecticut comes at a time when educators are debating the best way to teach reading. Is specific skill-building more important than exposing children to lots of texts and literature? What combination achieves the best results?  The story raises questions that are being debated everywhere from school districts to education schools.

Margie Gillis, a scientist at Haskins Laboratories, a New Haven research institute specializing in  language and literacy, told the Mirror that too many teachers “walk into a classroom assuming they know how to teach children to read and find out that one survey course [in college] wasn’t sufficient.”

If schools and districts spend more time preparing teachers for the test, though, will the results translate to the classroom?