Home A project of States Newsroom
State: Seven Alabama teacher prep programs improve literacy instruction curriculum


State: Seven Alabama teacher prep programs improve literacy instruction curriculum

Nov 14, 2023 | 7:59 am ET
By Jemma Stephenson
State: Seven Alabama teacher prep programs improve literacy instruction curriculum
A small child pulling children's books off a bookshelf. (Getty Images)

Seven teacher preparatory programs in Alabama have come in compliance with the Alabama Literacy Act a year after being found outside of it, an official told the Alabama State Board of Education Thursday. 

The Barksdale Reading Institute, an organization dedicated to improving literacy in Mississippi, found last year that many of Alabama’s teacher preparatory programs were not in compliance with teaching under the law, passed in 2019.The Barksdale Institute conducted an external review of Alabama’s early literacy courses at the 25 public and private Educator Preparation Programs in the state.

Alethea Hampton, administrator for education preparation, said Thursday that the seven institutions of higher education – Alabama A&M, Athens State University, Alabama State University, Auburn University, Miles College, University of Alabama at Birmingham and University of West Alabama.– had changed their instruction and materials to be better aligned with the Science of Reading.

Hampton said that the schools had redesigned their syllabi, updated textbooks, collaborated with each other and put faculty through LETRS training, a professional development course on the Science of Reading for educators. Field training has also been realigned so candidates can work with students on very focused subjects, like comprehension.

“This is unheard of in Alabama, the way they can collaborate and work together,” Hampton said.

State Superintendent Eric Mackey said that in other states, many institutions are not as willing to work together and with the State Board of Education. 

“In many states, they don’t talk to each other and they don’t talk to their department or their state board.

The Science of Reading is a body of research that studies reading and writing. It’s an alternative to balanced reading, which involves strategies such as “three-cueing,” which directs students to guess or look at pictures, according to the Hechinger Report.

Under the Reading League’s definition, an instructional practice under the Science of Reading would be phonemic awareness and letter instruction but not instruction based on larger units of speech, like syllables.

The full presentation was not made public on Thursday. A request for the Powerpoint presentation was made to the Alabama State Department of Education, but spokesperson Michael Sibley said they could not share the Powerpoint right away because it was not shown at the board meeting.

In a report distributed at the October 2022 work session, the Barksdale Institute found that 23% of courses in the programs were aligned with the Science of Reading and 16% were not aligned at all. More than half were inconsistent in their alignment and 10% had insufficient information to determine alignment.

The Institute found that 83% of textbooks promoted non-explicit methods of reading and writing.

The Institute announced in June 2022 that it was closing, according to the Magnolia Tribune. A member of the Alabama Reading Initiative has been working with and visiting the Alabama schools on the improvements.

Representatives from the colleges shared their experiences and many pointed to the collaboration part of the process as the highlight. The schools were able to share syllabi, textbooks and other resources and information.

“Just see what other institutions were doing and was eye opening,” said Derrick Davis, assistant dean for college of education at the University of West Alabama

Mark Dixon, president of A+ Education Partnership, an education advocacy group in Alabama, said to reporters after the work session that, had a full presentation been shown, he would have been looking for professors getting into the Science of Reading, textbooks aligned to the Science of Reading and the syllabi for a core structure to be aligned to the Science of Reading in a presentation.

“We really appreciate the state board holding those institutions accountable, because that is their job,” he said.

Mackey said that they are recommending the Board of Education approve the teacher preparation programs at the seven schools, as they have now met the standards.

Mackey said that they are planning to distribute new higher education standards next month. He said that they have much more rigorous standards aligned with the Science of Reading.

Three other teacher preparation education programs – at Stillman College, Troy University and Tuskegee University –are expected to be approved at the December meeting.