State requires upgrades to Regis University’s reading courses in teacher prep reauthorization decision

A blue cart of picture books organized alphabetically.
The State Board of Education ruled Thursday that Regis University will have to do more to improve reading courses. (Stacey Rupolo/Chalkbeat)

Regis University must make changes to how it trains future teachers on reading instruction before state officials consider a full reauthorization of its elementary education and special education programs. 

The decision, approved in a 5-1 vote by the State Board of Education on Thursday, granted the Denver-based university conditional approval for the two majors, which together enroll around 200 students. The state will conduct follow-up reviews of those two programs next fall to determine if they met the required conditions. The remaining 13 majors within the university’s teacher prep program won full approval.

In the state’s reauthorization report on Regis, reviewers praised the university’s teacher prep program for having recently made improvements to some reading courses, but said some classes still have shortcomings. These include the use of textbooks that don’t align with the science of reading and too little coverage of current reading mandates found in the state’s landmark reading law, the READ Act.

The “science of reading” refers to a large body of research on how children learn to read. One key finding is that teaching phonics in a direct and systematic way helps build skilled readers.

State reviewers also expressed concern that some Regis courses present the science of reading “more as intervention strategies rather than the one way to teach primary students reading strategies.” 

Board member Joyce Rankin was the only one to vote against the Regis measure, saying there needs to be more urgency since many children miss out on solid reading instruction for every year of delay. 

She said of her vote, “If it draws attention for more universities and more teachers to get on board, wonderful.” 

Newly elected board member Karla Esser recused herself from the vote because she recently retired from Regis.

Regis, a Catholic Jesuit college in northwest Denver, isn’t the only teacher prep program that’s been sent back to revamp its reading courses. The state handed down the same directive to Metropolitan State University of Denver, the state’s second-largest teacher prep program, last August and to the University of Northern Colorado, the state’s largest teacher prep program, first in 2019, and again in June

So far, the only traditional educator preparation programs to win full state approval for all majors since the state began looking more closely at reading instruction are Adams State University in southern Colorado and Fort Lewis College in southwestern Colorado.

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The state’s crackdown on teacher preparation programs, specifically their approach to reading instruction, began in 2018 as part of a broader push by lawmakers, state education officials, and parents of students with dyslexia to get more Colorado children reading at grade level. In addition to pushing teacher prep programs to make changes, the state has mandated training on reading instruction for all current kindergarten through third grade teachers, and instituted new rules on reading curriculum selection. 

During Thursday’s presentation on Regis, state education officials said they offer monthly meetings for teacher prep programs that received conditional approvals because of weaknesses in reading courses. In addition, the state education department this spring will launch voluntary training for teacher preparation program faculty on evidence-based reading instruction and READ Act requirements.

Colleen O’Neil, associate commissioner of educator talent at the Colorado Department of Education, said she’s encouraged that more teacher prep programs are “leaning in” to reading instruction improvements, a marked change from a year or two ago.

Correction: The original version of this story failed to mention that Adams State University won full reauthorization for all majors since the state began to look more closely at reading courses in teacher preparation programs.

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