Middle School Teacher Preparation: Alaska

Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy


The state should ensure that middle school teachers are sufficiently prepared to teach appropriate grade-level content.

Does not meet goal
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2013). Middle School Teacher Preparation: Alaska results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/AK-Middle-School-Teacher-Preparation-20

Analysis of Alaska's policies

Regrettably, Alaska allows middle school teachers to teach on a generalist K-8 license.

Alaska offers, but does not require, middle school endorsements (grades 5-8). In addition, the state does not explicitly require a major or minor in the subject areas that candidates plan to teach. 

Middle school teachers in Alaska are not required to pass a subject-matter test to attain licensure. Subject-matter tests are only required for professional certification, which occurs after three years of teaching.


Recommendations for Alaska

Require content testing in all core areas.
Alaska should require subject-matter testing for all middle school teacher candidates in every core academic area they intend to teach as a condition of initial licensure. To ensure meaningful middle school content tests, the state should set its passing scores to reflect high levels of performance.

Eliminate the generalist license.
Alaska should not allow middle school teachers to teach on a generalist license that does not differentiate between the preparation of middle school teachers and that of elementary teachers. These teachers are less likely to be adequately prepared to teach core academic areas at the middle school level because their preparation requirements are not specific to the middle or secondary levels, and they need not pass a subject-matter test in each subject they teach. Adopting middle school teacher preparation policies for all such teachers will help ensure that students in grades 7 and 8 have teachers who are appropriately prepared to teach grade-level content, which is different and more advanced than what elementary teachers teach.   

Encourage middle school teachers licensed to teach multiple subjects to earn two subject-matter minors. 
This would allow candidates to gain sufficient knowledge to pass state licensing tests, and it would increase schools' staffing flexibility. However, middle school candidates in Alaska who intend to teach a single subject should earn a major in that area.

Close the loophole that allows teachers to add middle grade levels to an existing license without demonstrating content knowledge.

Alaska allows teachers to add new grade levels to certificates with only institutional recommendation. The state is urged to require that all teachers who add the middle grade levels to their certificates pass a rigorous subject-matter test to ensure content knowledge of all subject areas before they are allowed in the classroom. 

State response to our analysis

Alaska asserted that while it does not prohibit a teacher endorsed in elementary K-8 from teaching in a middle school setting, the state's highly qualified regulations ensure that middle school teachers must demonstrate subject-area knowledge. Each district must ensure that its teachers are highly qualified, and highly qualified status is tied directly to the subject being taught. Middle school teachers must earn a highly qualified designation in each subject area using the following options: 

  • Passing the appropriate middle or high school subject-area Praxis II exam 
  • Having a bachelor's or graduate degree in the subject area, or
  • Completing 30 semester hours or 45 quarter hours in the subject area from a regionally accredited college.

Districts are required to track the "highly qualified" status of their teachers and report to the state each October.

Alaska also included a statement from the University of Alaska pointing out that all teachers in its secondary licensure programs are required to pass Praxis II exams in their content area. Further, all interns/student teachers are required to teach/facilitate content lessons and observe teachers at the middle school level regardless of whether they are placed in middle schools or high schools.

Last word

Alaska takes a significant risk by relying on federal HQT provisions rather than articulating in its own certification requirements that teachers must demonstrate subject-matter knowledge. The state is putting the burden on districts to ensure that their teachers are HQT instead of making this part of licensure. In addition, while a degree in a subject area is certainly indicative of knowledge of that, it offers no assurance that an individual has studied  the specific content he or she will be required to teach.  

Research rationale

States must differentiate middle school teacher preparation from that of elementary teachers.

Middle school grades are critical years of schooling. It is in these years that far too many students fall through the cracks. However, requirements for the preparation and licensure of middle school teachers are among the weakest state policies. Too many states fail to distinguish the knowledge and skills needed by middle school teachers from those needed by an elementary teacher. Whether teaching a single subject in a departmentalized setting or teaching multiple subjects in a self-contained setting, middle school teachers must be able to teach significantly more advanced content than elementary teachers do. The notion that someone should be identically prepared to teach first grade or eighth grade mathematics seems ridiculous, but states that license teachers on a K-8 generalist certificate essentially endorse this idea.

Approved programs should prepare middle school teacher candidates to be qualified to teach two subject areas.

Since current federal law requires most aspiring middle school teachers to have a major or pass a test in each teaching field, the law would appear to preclude them from teaching more than one subject. However, middle school teacher candidates could instead earn two subject-area minors, gaining sufficient knowledge to pass state licensing tests and be highly qualified in both subjects. This policy would increase schools' staffing flexibility, especially since teachers seem to show little interest in taking tests to earn highly qualified teaching status in a second subject once they are in the classroom.  This only applies to middle school teachers who intend to teach multiple subjects.  States must ensure that middle school teachers licensed only to teach one subject area have a strong academic background in that area.

Middle School Teacher Preparation: Supporting Research

A report published by the National Mathematics Advisory Panel (NMAP) concludes that a teacher's knowledge of math makes a difference in student achievement. U.S. Department of Education. Foundations for Success: The Final Report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education (2008).

For additional research on the importance of subject matter knowledge, see T. Dee and S. Cohodes, "Out-of-Field Teachers and Student Achievement: Evidence from Matched-Pairs Comparisons." Public Finance Review, Volume 36, No. 1, January 2008, pp. 7-32; B. Chaney, "Student outcomes and the professional preparation of eighth-grade teachers in science and mathematics," in NSF/NELS:88 Teacher transcript analysis, 1995, ERIC, ED389530, 112 p.; H. Wenglinsky, How Teaching Matters: Bringing the Classroom Back Into Discussions of Teacher Quality (Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service, 2000).

For information on the "ceiling effect," see D. Goldhaber and D. Brewer, "When should we reward degrees for teachers?" in Phi Delta Kappan, Volume 80, No. 2, October 1998, pp. 134, 136-138.