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Educator Effectiveness

Early Literacy in Educator Preparation

Evidence-based early literacy instruction, provided within schools and classrooms that are culturally responsive and sustaining, will put our youngest students on a path toward literacy for life. In the Massachusetts school system, some of our children receive the instruction and support they need to develop a strong foundation for literacy — and some don't. Today, only about half of 3rd graders are meeting literacy expectations, and the reading proficiency levels for Black and Latinx students are less than half that for White students. These statistics reflect not student effort or ability, but opportunity and support to learn. DESE is committed to advancing evidence-based, culturally responsive early literacy practices across Massachusetts from educator preparation to K–12 classrooms.

In 2019, DESE launched the Mass Literacy initiative and its centerpiece, the Mass Literacy Guide. The goal of Mass Literacy is to support pre-service and in-service educators in grades preK–3 to gain deep knowledge of literacy development and to skillfully implement evidence-based, inclusive, culturally responsive practices using high-quality instructional materials and assessments.

In line with the mission of Mass Literacy, it's critical that prospective teachers are learning evidence-based early literacy practices and how they can be enacted in a culturally responsive way. Currently in Massachusetts, the extent to which new teachers are learning evidence-based early literacy practices varies widely:

  • Only one-third of surveyed teacher candidates and recent completers in 2020 and 2021 agreed that "there are instructional routines for teaching each component of literacy which are supported by scientific evidence."
  • According to a 2021 syllabi review of required courses in elementary and early childhood programs across nine teacher preparation providers, some candidates currently are not afforded opportunities to learn about key topics such as decoding, phonemic awareness, and components of writing instruction.

DESE's goal is that by SY2024-2025, all Early Childhood, Elementary, and Moderate Disabilities teacher candidates in Massachusetts are prepared, through coursework and opportunities for practice and high-quality feedback, in evidence-based early literacy as outlined in the Mass Literacy Guide.

Our Way Forward

Being able to read, write, speak, and communicate are essential for full participation in our society. Literacy affords access to ideas, opportunities, and so much more. In conjunction with a significant investment in our K–12 schools and classrooms, DESE is launching a multi-year initiative to support and invest educator preparation providers in meeting the goal of ensuring that all prospective teachers are learning evidence-based early literacy practices aligned to Mass Literacy.

This initiative includes:

  • Early Literacy Program Criteria: Draft
    Articulating expectations for all relevant licensure programs, so that all teacher candidates have access to information about literacy and language acquisition that is based in current evidence. (*updated on July 27, 2022 to correct broken hyperlinks)

  • Formative Feedback Reviews for Early Literacy Programs:
    Providing clear, comprehensive feedback on programmatic alignment to new expectations for early literacy instruction though optional, no-stakes reviews conducted by TPI-US in Fall 2022, Spring 2023, or Fall 2023.

  • MTEL Updates:
    Updating and expanding licensure assessments aligned to Mass Literary and MA curriculum frameworks, including the recently updated Foundations of Reading MTEL, the Reading Specialist MTEL (currently under revision), and the identification of alternative assessments for Foundations of Reading through the 3-year MTEL-Alternative Assessment Pilot.

  • Early Literacy Observation Tool:
    Supporting educator preparation supervisors to observe and provide high-quality feedback to teacher candidates on their practice in evidence-based early literacy as outlined in the Mass Literacy Guide and in alignment with the new Early Literacy Program Criteria. The form has been refined based on feedback from last year's pilot to strengthen the Look Fors and streamline the observation and feedback process.

    Beginning in the 2023-2024 academic school year, Sponsoring Organizations will be required to use the form during CAP with a subset of candidates in Early Childhood, Elementary, and/or Moderate Disabilities licensure programs, with the goal of fully integrating this literacy-specific observation into CAP for all candidates in relevant programs starting Fall 2024. A communication with more information about next year's partial implementation will be sent in the coming weeks.

  • Resources for Early Literacy Educators:

    • Open-access Professional Learning (OAPL)
      OAPL provides Massachusetts educators with opportunities to learn more about early literacy topics, delivered by highly qualified local and national providers. Educators looking to continue their professional growth in literacy this winter can visit the OAPL web page to learn more and enroll in courses. Courses will be opened on a rolling basis over the next month. Massachusetts educators who qualify can enroll in these courses for free by checking the website. Some courses offer stipends, college credit or special certifications upon completion. Any questions can be sent to .

    • Equity through Early Literacy Webinar Series

      This spring, DESE launched a series of webinars focused on the impact of evidence-based early literacy on more equitable outcomes for all students. The series tapped into the expertise of both national and local literacy scholars, researchers, and advocates to explore the intersection of early literacy instruction and culturally and linguistically sustaining practices and discuss the intended long-term effects of responsive early literacy instruction in disrupting historically inequitable student outcomes.

      You can watch recordings of the webinars here:

      The Foundations of Early Literacy as a Tool for Equity

      • Moderator: Dr. David Chard
      • Panelists: Kareem Weaver, Munro Richardson, Jennifer Hogan

      Culturally Responsive Practices in Early Literacy

      • Moderator: Dr. Nicole Harris
      • Panelists: Dr. Tracy White Weeden, Afrika Afeni Mills, Ashley Clerge

      Early Literacy Instruction for Multilingual Learners

      • Moderator: Dr. Claudia Rinaldi
      • Panelists: Dr. Claude Goldenberg, Dr. Christina Budde, Mandy Hollister

Partnering with Educators

Throughout this initiative, DESE will be relying heavily on input from and partnerships with faculty and administrators, K–12 educators, families, and students as we collectively work to empower educators with the evidence-based practices for early literacy that all students need. Part of this outreach includes opportunities to support districts as they make the shift to using evidence-based early literacy practices and high quality instructional materials, including:

If you would like to learn more, please contact us at .

Early Literacy Resources for Sponsoring Organizations

This list of curated resources connected to the study of evidence-based early literacy practices was provided by stakeholders and MA higher education partners. The list is not meant to present exemplary model syllabi, books, or ideas. Instead, it is a collection of documents, videos, and websites that may be useful in learning about and discussing the ever-evolving field of early literacy instruction.

This is a dynamic list; please send your thoughts, recommendations, and suggestions for additional resources to .

Early Literacy Email Updates

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Last Updated: April 12, 2023

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Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
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