By Elisabeth Liptak, IDA Director of Professional Services
IDA published the Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading in 2010 to create consistency and quality in how we teach reading to individuals with dyslexia and other struggling readers. Numerous research studies document that many teachers lack sufficient knowledge in the structure of language and the science of reading, despite the recommendations of the National Reading Panel in 2000 that these areas be emphasized in teacher preparation. Because this knowledge base begins with pre-service teacher training, one of our goals was to use the IDA Standards to provide a framework for course content in university teacher training programs. Earlier this year, IDA invited more than 800 Schools of Education to participate in an independent review of their programs to see how well they aligned with the Standards criteria. In the end, we conducted reviews of nine university-based programs, resulting in the recognition of those nine programs.
The IDA Standards & Practices committee, which oversaw the review process, considered reviewing any university-based program that could make a reasonable claim of meeting the extensive criteria of the IDA Standards. As any of the 27 reviewers can tell you, the IDA Standards are both wide-ranging and detailed, with 74 individual items. In the reviews conducted, we did not distinguish between general and special education, undergraduate and graduate programs, but how well they aligned with the Standards overall. In the end, of the nine programs recognized, only two are undergraduate programs, which suggests the difficulty of incorporating such in-depth material in pre-service programs. Only four of the nine programs reside in special education departments, a finding which may reflect recognition for extensive training in reading science apart from other special education training. The quality of the programs IDA recognized and the dedication of their faculty are gratifying.
As a result of the publicity around the announcement of the university reviews, IDA received inquiries from programs around the country. Many are interested in using the IDA Standards to develop course content, but are not yet ready to be reviewed.
The IDA Standards and the university reviews created a dialogue about appropriate course content and the training of teachers, all highly encouraging and an important first step. However, the fact that only nine programs agreed to be reviewed by IDA raises the question of what is happening in the majority of teacher training programs across the country. Undergoing a program review requires time and effort on the part of programs. We recognize that some programs might have opted out because of the work involved. Still, if programs were offering the comprehensive curricula reflected in the IDA Standards, we believe they would have been open to a review and the benefits of recognition by IDA. It is more likely the case that such coursework is still lacking in the teacher training curricula of most Schools of Education.
So, where do we go from here? Using the nine recognized university programs as models, the IDA Standards & Practices (now the Professional Development) committee will be focusing its efforts in the next year on working with faculty and administrators at Schools of Education across the country to advise them on course content and design, as well as practicum experiences and requirements. These efforts may involve faculty training in teaching structured language. It may also include guidance on building strong partnerships. Almost all of the nine IDA recognized programs effectively partnered with outside organizations to help them deliver course content and practicum experiences. Partnerships maximized limited resources in smaller programs, but were also employed successfully by the larger ones.
A longer-term goal is to have the IDA Standards become an option for accrediting reading programs in institutions of higher education. Under the current accreditation process, there are no standards that match the program content of the IDA Standards. The International Reading Association standards are widely used to accredit general reading programs, and the Council for Exception Children standards are used for special education programs. Neither set of standards adequately addresses the structure of language or the science of reading. With the merger of the two accreditation organizations, NCATE and TEAC, an opportunity exists for IDA to participate in the ground floor of the new accreditation process being developed.
The Professional Development committee is also overseeing the development of an exam whose content would align with the IDA Standards and could be used in state licensure exams for teachers and therapists. This exam is also being developed with the goal of offering IDA “certification” to individuals, which would also include practicum experience from an approved program. With the development of an exam comes the need for professional development and test preparation at all levels. Work on the development of an exam commences later this year.
The IDA Standards initiative presents a tremendous opportunity to change the way all teachers are trained to teach reading, whether to children with dyslexia, struggling readers, or children in the general classroom. As all of these efforts unfold in the coming year, we will be reaching out to our branches and the IDA Government Relations committee to coordinate our efforts and ensure the success of this groundbreaking initiative.
Elisabeth “Liz” Liptak is in an expert in the reading and literacy fields. She served as the Executive Director of the Washington Literacy Council, a community-based direct service program in Washington DC that served struggling adult readers and younger children, prior to joining IDA in May of 2011. Liz has been a reading tutor since 1989.
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