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How To Become A Reading Specialist

Drexel University School of Education

What Is A Reading Specialist?

A reading specialist is an educational professional who works with individuals that struggle to gain or improve literacy skills. Working primarily with children at the grade school level, reading specialists use a variety of diagnostic tools to identify literacy challenges and to determine the types of instruction that will be needed to help young students become confident readers and writers. These professionals work with teachers and school systems to develop literacy curricula and tools for teaching reading in the classroom setting. Reading specialists may also work with older children and adolescents, as well as students learning English as a second language (ESL) or those with learning disabilities. Becoming a reading specialist requires a specialized advanced degree or certificate and the development of specific skills to help students at all levels become proficient in reading and provide other literacy interventions.

What Does a Reading Specialist Do?

Reading specialists are responsible for several tasks that support student success in reading and writing. Responsibilities include working one-on-one with students on phonetics, word identification, and reading comprehension, with small groups of students who experience similar needs, and with those experiencing reading challenges, like dyslexia. Reading specialists also collaborate with classroom teachers to develop literacy curricula, partner in the creation of Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and conduct ongoing assessments of students’ progress.

There are five common roles reading specialists play within educational systems:

  • Specialist – A reading specialist will evaluate students who are having difficulty reading and writing and will plan and implement targeted strategies for improving those skills.
  • Interventionist – Many reading specialists work one-on-one with specific students who require more support than can be offered in a classroom setting. They develop tailored literacy strategies for individual students and provide a learning environment for students who may feel lost in group instruction.
  • Coach – Reading specialists often coach teachers on effective tools for teaching reading and writing, along with strategies for supporting students who struggle in those areas.
  • Professional Development Lead – Reading specialists may conduct professional development sessions designed to enhance school- or district-wide literacy programs and improve literacy outcomes at all grade levels.
  • Curriculum Reviewer – As schools adopt new curricula or update existing curricula, reading specialists often participate in curriculum committees to ensure that curricula meet the literacy needs and goals of the school.

What Is the Difference Between a Reading Teacher and Reading Specialist?

Reading teachers and reading specialists have many of the same responsibilities. Both types of professionals work with students to improve reading fluency and comprehension and assist students with grammar, spelling, and phonetics. Reading teachers work with students at all grade and skill levels. In contrast, certified reading specialists usually work with students in grade schools and are specially trained to work with students with learning disabilities and those struggling with reading at their grade level.

What Skills Do You Need to Be a Reading Specialist?

To become a successful reading specialist, individuals must possess and be able to demonstrate a passion for reading and teaching, and other key skills that lead to effective strategies for improving students’ reading and writing. Beyond direct service to students, reading specialists must also have the skills to work with parents, schools, and school districts to develop and sustain meaningful literacy programs.

  • Critical Thinking – it’s important for reading specialists to have a deep understanding of literacy theories and practices and be able to think critically about what theories and practices might be relevant to an individual student’s intervention strategy.
  • Assessment – Successful reading specialists should have an intricate knowledge of evaluation methodologies in order to assess literacy programs and to implement program improvements.
  • Instruction – Many reading specialists have teaching experience, and strong instructional skills are critical in providing seamless support as students transition between the regular classroom and a specialized literacy program.
  • Leadership – Reading specialists must be able to lead literacy programs and professional development activities for schools and districts and serve as lead resources for parents and school communities.
  • Communication – Reading specialists must be able to effectively communicate intervention strategies to the students with whom they work and be able to clearly articulate challenges and successes with parents, teachers, and other members of the learning community.
  • Patience and compassion – When working with students with learning disabilities and those struggling with reading and writing, patience and compassion are critical qualities, as the journey to improving literacy skills may take time.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Reading Specialist?

If an individual does not have a state teaching certificate already then an aspiring reading specialists should expect to devote several years earning the required degrees and certification. For example, the first four years are spent earning a bachelor’s degree in education, literacy, reading, or another relevant field to become certified as a classroom teacher. Once an individual is a certified teacher, a reading specialist certification can be accomplished within 1-2 years. The length of certification programs varies; Drexel’s 31-credit reading specialist certification program can be completed in about 15 months.

How to Become a Reading Specialist in 7 Steps

In most cases, reading specialists need a bachelor’s degree in education, teaching experience (is often preferable), and a reading specialist certificate. Considering all levels of required education, training, and field experience, individuals can expect to become certified reading specialists in six or seven steps.

  1. Bachelor’s degree – Aspiring reading specialists must earn a bachelor’s degree in education, literacy, reading, or a related field that prepares individuals for certification in teaching.
  2. Student teaching experience – While pursuing a bachelor’s degree, individuals can complete a student teaching field placement and gain critical real-world experience in the classroom. Standards and requirements for student teaching positions vary by state and school district.
  3. Certification exam and teaching license – Each state conducts its own teacher certification examination and has its own requirements for obtaining a teaching license. Individuals should consult with their state’s board of education for specific requirements. Generally, individuals must meet minimum grade point average (GPA) requirements and complete a series of background checks.
  4. Classroom teaching experience – Aspiring reading specialists may pursue a postgraduate certificate or advanced graduate degree while gaining important teaching experience at the same time.
  5. Master’s degree (state by state) – Some states require a master’s degree for reading specialist certification, so individuals should consult with their state’s board of education. Master’s degree programs offer additional, in-depth instruction on literacy theories, application of theories in the classroom, student assessment, and evaluation of curricula.
  6. Complete reading specialist certification program and exam – Each state conducts its own reading specialist certification examination. In Pennsylvania, to become a certified reading specialist, individuals must complete a certification program and complete the PA Praxis exam Reading Specialist (Test Code #5301/0301) with passing score of 164. In many instances, credit hours accrued through a reading specialist certification program can be counted towards a master’s degree.
  7. Apply for reading specialist jobs – Open positions may also be listed as Literacy Coach, Reading Coach, Reading Intervention Teacher/Specialist, or Reading Instructor/Teacher. Individuals may also choose to remain in their teaching positions but use their training as reading specialists to enhance their classroom instruction.

Are Reading Specialists in Demand?

Reading specialists are in demand within the overall job market, because literacy is a critical component of academic success, and most K-12 schools will need the support of reading specialists to meet specific literacy benchmarks. The job outlook for reading specialists is positive. For instructional coordinators and special education teachers, roles similar to reading specialists, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates 4-7% job growth between 2021-2031.

How Much Does a Reading Specialist Make?

The average annual salary for a reading specialist is $55,248 according to Reading specialists typically have a salary similar to that of special education teachers and instructional coordinators, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary is $61,820 for special education teachers and $63,740 for instructional coordinators. Annual salaries for this profession will vary based on location, educational level, and years of experience. And because reading specialists can pursue a range of careers – from working in schools and with school districts to develop curricula to consulting for the private sector and textbook publishing companies – salaries will be as equally varied.

Become A Reading Specialist with Drexel University’s School of Education

The School of Education’s Reading Specialist Certification program at Drexel prepares students to work with individuals with a range of reading abilities and needs. The program’s coursework enables students to meet Pennsylvania’s requirements for professional competencies for reading specialists, and it’s one of the few select programs in the region that offers courses from the Wilson Reading System®, a pioneer and leader in the science of reading and literacy education. Students will learn effective reading strategies, and become exceptionally skilled and qualified to support students with reading needs and provide literacy leadership and coaching to teachers and schools.

Drexel’s Reading Specialist Certification program is offered 100% online. Get started by requesting more information or by completing the Drexel Online application.