The ability to read is crucial to learning and to functioning in a modern society. It makes sense, then, that schools have highly trained literacy experts on their staff whose job duties include intervening when students are struggling to read at their grade level and helping teachers sharpen their skills in developing pupils’ literacy. In addition to classroom teaching experience, reading specialists need coursework that fully covers the foundations and practices of teaching literacy and overcoming struggles in reading. Aspiring reading specialists can acquire this knowledge through different paths, often as part of a graduate education, that may include a master’s degree or certificate or certification program in instructional design, literacy studies or reading education. Depending on your state’s requirements, you may need a special endorsement or certification to become qualified as a reading specialist.

What Degree Do I Need to Become a Reading Specialist?

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Graduate School and Reading Specialist Roles

Different states and school districts may have different requirements for becoming a reading specialist. Even among states that require certifications or endorsements of their reading specialists, the educational requirements aren’t necessarily the same. In Pennsylvania, for example, a bachelor’s degree is acceptable, providing that the student has completed sufficient coursework in reading education, while New Jersey requires a minimum of a master’s degree to attain the reading specialist endorsement. When pondering whether a graduate education is really necessary to work as a reading specialist, you need to consider the requirements of the state and district in which you intend to work.

Even if a master’s degree is not mandatory in your school district, earning one may be a wise choice – particularly if you have to go back to school anyway to meet certification requirements through a non-degree endorsement program. Having a master’s degree improves earning potential in several different occupations in the education industry, often raising median salaries by anywhere from 14 percent to 43 percent, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. You may see a considerable pay bump by getting your master’s degree, and you are likely to fare better in job searches if you have a master’s degree.

Non-degree reading specialist programs are often faster than master’s degrees – potentially taking just half the time to complete – but these less comprehensive educational programs are also less likely to give you a salary boost or a competitive edge among job seekers.

Curriculum and Instruction Programs in Literacy Studies

At some schools, the subject of literacy studies fits best under the category of curriculum and instruction. There’s clearly some overlap between these fields. Reading specialists become experts on creating curriculum standards, lessons and class materials used to assist students with reading troubles. Often, they don’t teach in a traditional classroom, but rather through one-on-one or small group interventions. They also act as coaches and coordinators for general classroom teachers, helping train them in teaching methods that are effective for teaching literacy and improving students’ reading levels.

When you study literacy and reading as a graduate student of curriculum and instruction, you will take many different classes that look at different areas of literacy. You will study the foundations of literacy, literacy development among children and adolescents, methods of literacy assessment and how to teach the writing process. Students of these programs often become familiar with multicultural literature and with the role of reading and writing skills in content areas such as math, science and social studies.

Most curriculum and instruction programs include some form of hands-on experience, such as a practicum that allows students to apply the practices used in language teaching and learning.

Master of Education Programs in Literacy Studies and Reading Education

If you want your education to take the perspective of the more traditional classroom teacher, then a Master of Education (M.Ed.) program in literacy studies or reading education might better fit your needs. Master of Education programs come in licensure and non-licensure forms, and for reading specialist students, they may or may not lead to a state endorsement or certification.

A master’s degree in reading education may begin with coursework in the foundations of reading, including the theories and process involved and the foundations of effective instruction. Students will then explore different areas of the topic, including literacy as it pertains to beginning readers, methods of supporting adolescents who struggle with reading, the development of writing and spelling skills, strategies for developing reading comprehension and how to teach reading to English language learners.

Many Master of Education programs in reading and literacy tend to require practicum experiences, particularly if they lead to some form of state licensure, endorsement or other credential.

Certification and Endorsement Programs for Reading Specialists

If your goal is to move into a reading specialist role as quickly as possible, you might opt to look for a strictly certification or endorsement program rather than a master’s degree program. These options match the certification or endorsement requirements set by the state in which the school is located. The curricula of these programs are condensed, often emphasizing the practical skills of teaching reading and writing and including plenty of practicum experiences. In certain programs, you may have the option to transfer your credits to a relevant master’s program, if you choose to do so.

While schools sometimes hire paraprofessionals to assist reading specialists, a formal education or certification is typically required to become a full-fledged reading specialist – even for those with years of experience in the paraprofessional role.

Additional Resources

Which Schools Have the Best Master’s Programs in Curriculum Writing?

What Is an Instructional Coordinator?

What Are Some Good Skills or Qualities for a Person Who Specializes in Curriculum Creation?