Massachusetts is improving how its educators teach students to read, according to a new national report.
The report, released Tuesday by the Washington, D.C.-based National Council on Teacher Quality, ranked Massachusetts’s policies for training new educators in early literacy as being “moderate” in strength. Massachusetts’ policies are stronger than those in 19 other states — including three in New England, according to the Council’s review.
“Massachusetts has begun to set off in the right direction when it comes to literacy reform,” said NCTQ President Heather Peske.
Still, the council’s report noted, “there is more to do.”
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which did not respond to a request for comment, has worked in recent years to improve how the state’s teacher programs prepare early reading teachers, a policy area literacy experts say is critical for boosting student reading achievement. That work is one piece of the state’s broader efforts to revamp how kids are being taught to read amid concerning test scores: Less than half of the state’s third graders met or exceeded the state’s expectations on the 2023 English Language Arts MCAS.
For its report, the council reviewed five different policy areas, including whether states set detailed reading standards for teacher preparation programs, and if they use a strong elementary reading licensure test. Massachusetts has made recent strides in this area, revising both its program standards and licensure test to better align with the “Science of Reading,” a vast collection of research documenting how the brain learns to read. However, as the Globe previously reported, some of Massachusetts’ more than 40 teacher preparation programs won’t be audited for adherence to the new standards for several years.
Another area considered by the council was whether states require districts to use high-quality reading curriculums. A 2023 Globe investigation found nearly half of all school districts in the state were using a curriculum during the 2022-23 school year that the state calls “low-quality.” Because of the state’s legal structure, the department cannot mandate curriculums, state officials have previously said. Late last year, education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley called on the state Legislature to take action.
The council previously ranked Massachusetts among the worst states in the nation for preparing teachers in reading instruction. That report, however, wasn’t analyzing statewide policies. Instead, it was judging individual preparation programs that opted in to a review. With strong policies now in place, the question becomes how quickly the state can get colleges and universities to shift their practices, said Peske, who previously served as Massachusetts senior associate commissioner of elementary and secondary education.
The Reading League Massachusetts, the local chapter of a national nonprofit promoting the Science of Reading, said in a statement that the state’s moderate ratings highlight ongoing work to increase teacher knowledge, while also recognizing that “more needs to be done.”
“We call upon school committees, school systems, and teacher preparation programs to act upon the scientific evidence on reading development and utilize the tools DESE has created,” the league said. “It is essential we support teachers and districts to ensure Massachusetts children receive equitable access to evidence-aligned instruction.”
Elsewhere in New England, Rhode Island was the only New England state to earn top marks, while Connecticut, like Massachusetts, was identified as having moderately strong policies. The council said Vermont and New Hampshire’s policies were weak, while Maine’s were “unacceptable.”
Maine received failing ratings in all five policy areas.
Marcus Mrowka, spokesperson for the Maine Department of Education, said in an email that the state “has a robust state literacy plan” and a “wide-ranging commitment to literacy skills and the support provided to educators, schools, and students,” citing a new $10 million literacy grant program announced last week.