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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 has launched 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 Approval Criteria
    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.

    Download the Early Literacy Program Approval Criteria

    • Read the full memo regarding the Early Literacy Program Approval Criteria

    These expectations will ensure that future elementary, early childhood, and special education teachers receive training and preparation in evidence-based literacy instruction so that they can meet the needs of all students from the moment they step into the classroom.

  • 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, Fall 2023, or Spring 2024.

  • MTEL Updates:
    Updating and expanding licensure assessments aligned to Mass Literary and MA curriculum frameworks, including the updated Foundations of Reading MTEL(released 2020), the Reading Specialist MTEL (released 2022), 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. Read the full memo regarding the Early Literacy Observation Form Timeline.

  • Resources for Early Literacy Educators:

    Early Literacy Screening Guidance Informational Webinar

    On September 20, 2022, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education adopted an amendment to 603 CMR 28.03 that requires all elementary schools to assess each student's reading abilities and early literacy skills at least twice per year from kindergarten through at least third grade. The regulation, 603 CMR 28.03(1)(f), went into effect on July 1, 2023. In response to this new requirement, DESE developed guidance for schools and districts to support implementation of screeners. In September 2023, DESE hosted an informational webinar for faculty of educator preparation programs to share an overview of the guidance and discuss implications for preparing teacher candidates.

    You can watch a recording of the webinar. Please feel free to reach out to Linda Sewnarine, Assistant Director of the Office of Literacy and Humanities, with any questions at .

    Early Literacy Community of Practice for Program Supervisors

    Throughout SY23-24, DESE is hosting a series of virtual meetings for program supervisors from sponsoring organizations across the state to build understanding of evidence-based early literacy practices and strengthen skills in observing and providing high-quality feedback in this content area. The Community of Practice will walk through the seven modules of the Mass Literacy Online Overview Course, developed by Keys to Literacy, with opportunities to build on the knowledge in the course and apply their learnings to their role as supervisor. To learn more, visit the Early Literacy Observation Tool site.

    Early Literacy in Education Preparation Professional Learning Community

    This spring, DESE launched a professional learning community (PLC) for education preparation faculty to engage with the new Early Literacy Program Approval Criteria. The PLC is facilitated by The Reading Circuit and designed to support faculty as they ensure that teacher candidates in Elementary, Early Childhood, and Moderate Disabilities PK-8 licensure programs are well prepared in evidence-based, culturally and linguistically sustaining early literacy instruction. See detailed agendas and access resources generated by the PLC.

    Equity through Early Literacy Webinar Series

    In Spring 2023, DESE hosted 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: May 3, 2024

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