Twenty-First Century Challenges for Reading/Language Arts Specialists in Connecticut

Jean Klein and Lois Lanning, CARR Research Committee Co-Chairs
Editor’s note: This article is a summary of their research for which a full report is available.

The twenty-first century, once looked upon as the information age, has become the accountability age. This study was designed to find out what responsibilities reading specialists currently have, challenges of the role, and what new roles will be demanded of reading specialists as a result of increased mandates. Clearly for this century the role must be multi-tasked and a position of leadership if the achievement gap is to be diminished or, even better, eliminated entirely.

This study analyzed data derived from a questionnaire of reading professionals working in the field, interview questions for university professors who prepare reading specialists, and a random survey of principals. The triangulation of data led to common themes and to the “Recommendations in Brief’ (which are listed on page 5 and 6). The recommendations are broad-ranging and are highlighted below for reading specialists, administrators, universities, and policymakers. In sum, all stakeholders need to change if they are to be effective.

Statement of Purpose

The purposes of the study were four-fold:

  • To determine the effects of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) on the role of reading/language arts specialists in Connecticut;
  • To update the Connecticut Association for Reading Research 1997 study of reading/language arts programs and personnel;
  • To determine the certification and responsibilities of Connecticut’s reading/language arts teachers and consultants; and
  • To identify the challenges of these roles.


The study was conducted in three phases:

Phase I, Reading Specialists. A four-page questionnaire was mailed to 1648 Connecticut reading professionals with either the 102 certification as a remedial reading/language arts teacher or the 097 certification as a reading/language arts consultant. Multiple-choice and open-ended questions focused on job responsibilities. A response rate of36% yielded much data across all grade levels and Education Reference Groups (ERGs).

Phase II, Universities. A survey was mailed to reading/language arts department heads in the five Connecticut universities that have accredited programs for the 102 and 097 e~d~rsements. Questions on this survey fo~used on determmmg whether the university perspective of 1ssues faced by reading specialists supports the issues identified by the teacher/consultant survey, with particular regard to preparation for their roles. The response rate was 100%.

Phase III, Administrators. Interviews were conducted with 150 randomly selected principals across all levels (elementary, middle, and high schools) from all ERGs. Due to time constraints, phone interviews were abandoned and interview questions were then mailed, yielding a 19% response rate. Responses gave us a cross-check with the teacher/consultant responses in how administrators structure and support reading specialist positions.

Discussion of Findings

Reading Specialists

Reading specialists are spending the majority of their time, even if they are certified consultants, with intervention and remediation of students instead of guiding reading/language arts classroom instruction as well as the program as a whole. The consultant’s role must go far beyond coaching and modeling. The role should be a shared leadership position, with the consultant forming a literacy team to develop support for, and guidance of, literacy efforts in the school.

CARR recommends at least one consultant to every school. Staff development is a priority in schools; thus the consultant must be an ongoing resource to teachers in addition to providing professional development for all staff.

Literacy is everyone’s responsibility. Beyond the school, the consultant must reach out into the community to seek understanding and support of the literacy program.

Financial support for special projects needs to be sought in budget-crunching times, and consultants must have input into the budget process if they are to be effective.

Establishing relationships with preschool facilities is another way consultants can build community understanding of literacy needs prior to entering public schools and after. Clear job descriptions are needed for the multi-task role.


Administrators need to become more knowledgeable about reading process and what good instruction looks like. Many administrators have not had coursework in reading prior to becoming a principal. In their observations of classroom instruction, they need to know what practices are best and why. Principals are the evaluators of the effectiveness of classroom teachers, and while they may rely to some extent on their consultant’s knowledge of best practices, they need to be supportive of those practices when observing.

CARR’s findings indicate that many principals do not know the difference between the present two reading specialist certifications (102 remedial reading and language arts teachers 1-12, and 097 reading and language arts consultant K-12). Consequently, remedial teachers are being asked to take on a leadership role they are not trained to do, while consultants who are trained for leadership are spending the majority of their time remediating students. Principals report difficulty in finding certified individuals to take on the role of leadership. Teachers with reading specialist certification are remaining in the classroom for a variety of reasons: job security, extra responsibilities without extra compensation, role demands that are not supported by administration. Beyond a salary differential, the organizational conditions that promote success are the most important incentive for certified individuals to take on the multi-tasked role of a specialist. Principals can effect needed changes through evaluating classroom instruction, participating in staff development meetings held by the consultant, setting goals with teachers, promoting teamwork, and providing release time for professional development. Central office administrators have a role as well in promoting collaboration among staff and the public in a shared vision of literacy development.


CARR recommends only one certification for a reading specialist, i.e., the 097 reading/language arts consultant. Preparation must expand on the leadership role and particularly the ”people” aspects of this position. As consultants meet with resistance to needed changes, they need to know ways in which they may be effective in bringing all participants to the table. The consultant endorsement should be obtained at the Master’s level but with credits beyond the usual requirements. Pre-service training for classroom teachers must be strengthened at the Bachelor’s level. At the Master’s level individuals who wish to remain in the classroom should have appropriate coursework rather than the specialist endorsement. Potential administrators must have coursework in reading, and, particularly how to use their consultants effectively. Further, more consistency is needed across state universities in consultant coursework, so that credits from one university to another are honored.


If literacy is to become a reality for all students, strong collaboration among all stakeholders is necessary. School districts, universities, and the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) share that goal. CSDE needs to be a leader in this endeavor, as they have been. But much more needs to be done. Regulations in the near future should allow only one endorsement for a reading/language arts consultant, whatever title is finally agreed upon. Job descriptions should reflect the certification necessary for the position. “Literacy coaches” should be required to have advanced literacy training and proper certification if literacy efforts are to be successful. In-depth coursework is needed for such a role. Moreover, CSDE can take a leadership role in providing professional development for administrators in the field who lack a knowledge base in reading process and in maximizing the usefulness of their consultants.

Recommendations in Brief

The findings indicate the following recommendations for reading professionals in their specific roles.

  • Consultants should have an active role in developing the reading/language arts budget and in analyzing school and districtwide assessments, including high stakes testing results.
  • Consultants should spend no more than one-third of their time in direct instruction of students and the other two-thirds developing the school and districtwide literacy program, working with classroom teachers and others.
  • Staff development should be a major part of the consultant’s role as a leader in ensuring best practices in literacy.
  • The consultant should develop a literacy team in the school to assist with the development and implementation of the reading/language arts program.
  • The literacy team should reach out into the community for support of the reading/language arts program as well as to work directly with families for understanding of the process of reading and its integration with language arts.
  • A job description is essential for the consultant role in order that responsibilities are clear to all concerned, including classroom teachers. The job description should include reference to the certification requirements for the job.
  • Guidelines should be developed for working with other specialists in the school and for conflict resolution.
  • Consultants need release time to be able to attend conferences and workshops to upgrade their own skills as well as to provide background knowledge for professional development in their districts.
  • To serve the reading and language arts needs of students effectively, the recommendation is for one consultant per 500 students at the elementary level, one consultant per 600 students at the middle school level, and one consultant per 800 students at the high school level, with collaboration between them to plan a well-articulated reading/language arts program.
  • Administrators need to deepen their understanding of the distinctions between the qualifications of teachers who hold a Connecticut certification with a 102 endorsement (remedial reading/language arts teacher) and a 097 endorsement (reading/language arts consultant).
  • Administrators need to support the multiple responsibilities of reading/language arts consultants and provide the organizational conditions necessary for reading/language arts consultants to function effectively, including workload, time, and scheduling.
  • Administrators need to fmd ways to provide more effective incentives to attract reading/language arts consultants and to retain them.
  • Administrators need to become more knowledgeable about what good reading instruction looks like.
  • Universities value their uniqueness, yet more consistency is needed in designing reading/language arts consultant program coursework of the highest standards so that consultants meet the essential competencies for the twenty-first century.
  • University programs should place more emphasis on preparing reading/language consultants for the leadership roles they are expected to assume.
  • University programs for potential administrators should include a course in reading and language arts that will develop their understanding of the process by which literacy is acquired and to learn how to use their consultants effectively.
  • Personnel from the universities that offer a reading certification program need to work closely with state reading organizations, school leaders, and the State Department of Education to address reading/language arts consultant shortages.
  • State policymakers need to exert strong leadership in the area of literacy.
  • New regulations should provide for one reading/language arts specialist endorsement; i.e., the reading/language arts consultant endorsement.
  • This consultant endorsement should be given with significant graduate study beyond the Master’s Degree, with competencies developed jointly by the universities and the State Department of Education.
  • New regulations should also remove the obstacle of ten months as a remedial teacher prior to becoming a consultant, since clinical experience already meets this requirement.
  • As part of a Master’s Degree program, graduate study in reading and language arts should be developed for classroom teachers who want more training in reading but who do not want to become reading/language arts consultants.
  • At the Bachelor’s Degree level, better alignment is needed between the pre-service university program in reading and language arts and the expectations for beginning classroom teachers.
  • Regulations should mandate professional development in reading and language arts as part of the renewal of requirements for administrative certification.


The full report is intended to be read by all constituents in the hope that further productive dialogue may ensue in the interests of all concerned. No one group can improve literacy on its own. Our students deserve no less than our best efforts to help them succeed.


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