Secondary Teacher Preparation: Alaska

2013 Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy

Goal

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

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

Analysis of Alaska's policies

Regrettably, Alaska does not require content tests for initial licensure; such tests are only mandated once candidates apply for the professional license, usually after three years. 

Further, Alaska also allows both general science and general social studies licenses and does not require subject-matter testing for each subject area within these disciplines. At the time of professional licensure, Alaska requires secondary social studies teachers to pass the Praxis II Social Studies content test. Teachers with this license are not limited to teaching general social studies but rather can teach any of the topical areas. (For the state's science loophole, see Goal 1-G.)

Secondary teachers in Alaska may add content areas to the five-year professional certificate in one of three ways: an institutional recommendation, including transcripts showing pertinent coursework; a posted degree, major or minor; or a passing score on a Praxis II content test. 

Citation

Recommendations for Alaska

Require subject-matter testing for secondary teacher candidates. 

As a condition of licensure, Alaska should require its secondary teacher candidates to pass a content test in each subject area they plan to teach to ensure that they possess adequate subject-matter knowledge and are prepared to teach grade-level content. 

Require secondary social studies teachers to pass a content test for each discipline they are licensed to teach.
By allowing a general social studies certification—and only requiring a general knowledge social studies exam—Alaska is not ensuring that its secondary teachers possess adequate subject-specific content knowledge. The state's required assessment combines all subject areas (e.g., history, geography, economics) and does not report separate scores for each subject area. Further, Alaska should require content tests as a condition of initial licensure. 

Require subject-matter testing when adding subject-area endorsements. 
Alaska should require passing scores on subject-specific content tests, regardless of other coursework or degree requirements, for teachers who are licensed in core secondary subjects and wish to add another subject area, or endorsement, to their licenses. While coursework may be generally indicative of background in a particular subject area, only a subject-matter test ensures that teachers know the specific content they will need to teach.

State response to our analysis

Alaska asserted that to complete an approved secondary teacher preparation program, candidates must pass the Praxis II subject-area exam in the area that will appear on their institutional recommendation. The state included a statement from the University of Alaska that reiterated this information. 

Alaska noted that while teaching candidates could gain endorsements in general science or social studies, they would be required to demonstrate specific subject-area knowledge when employed to teach in an Alaska school district.

All districts must ensure that employed teachers are highly qualified, and highly qualified status is tied directly to the subject being taught by the educator. Depending on a secondary school teacher's subject areas, a new teacher would need to gain highly qualified designation through one of the following options: 

  • Passing the appropriate 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.

Alaska added that in the case of social studies, there are distinct exams for each distinguishable subject area. A teacher who is teaching economics, geography, government, political science, U.S. history or world history must be highly qualified in the specific subject area by one of the three methods outlined above.

Alaska also noted that a highly qualified designation is not included on the teaching certificate as an endorsement, and districts are required by regulations to track highly qualified status of their teachers and report to the state each October.  

Last word

Alaska takes 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.  

How we graded

Research rationale

Completion of coursework provides no assurance that prospective teachers know the specific content they will teach. 

Secondary teachers must be experts in the subject matter they teach, and only a rigorous test ensures that teacher candidates are sufficiently and appropriately knowledgeable in their content area. Coursework is generally only indicative of background in a subject area; even a major offers no certainty of what content has been covered.  A history major, for example, could have studied relatively little American history or almost exclusively American history.  To assume that the major has adequately prepared the candidate to teach American history, European history or ancient civilizations is an unwarranted leap of faith. 

Requirements should be just as rigorous when adding an endorsement to an existing license.

Many states will allow teachers to add a content area endorsement to their license simply on the basis of having completed coursework.  As described above, the completion of coursework does not offer assurance of specific content knowledge.  Some states require a content test for initial licensure but not for adding an endorsement, even if the endorsement is in a completely unrelated subject. 

Is a social studies teacher prepared to teach history?

Most states offer a general social studies license at the secondary level.  For this certification, teachers can have a background in a wide variety of fields, ranging from history and political science to anthropology or psychology and are usually only required to pass a general social studies test.  Under such a license a teacher who majored in psychology could be licensed to teach secondary history having passed only a general knowledge test and answering most—and perhaps all—history questions incorrectly.

Secondary Teacher Preparation: Supporting Research

Research studies have demonstrated the positive impact of teacher content knowledge on student achievement.  For example, see D. Goldhaber, "Everyone's Doing It, But What Does Teacher Testing Tell Us About Teacher Effectiveness?" Journal of Human Resources, Volume 42, No. 4, Fall 2007, pp. 765-794.  See also D. Harris and T. Sass, "Teacher Training,Teacher Quality, and Student Achievement". Calder Institute, March 2007, Working Paper 3. Evidence can also be found in B. White, J. Presley, and K. DeAngelis "Leveling Up: Narrowing the Teacher Academic Capital Gap in Illinois", Illinois Education Research Council, Policy Research Report: IERC 2008-1, 44 p.; D. Goldhaber and D. Brewer, "Does Teacher Certification Matter? High School Teacher Certification Status and Student Achievement." Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Volume 22, No. 2, June 20, 2000, pp. 129-145; and D. Goldhaber and D. Brewer, "Why Don't Schools and Teachers Seem to Matter? Assessing the Impact of Unobservables on Educational Productivity." Journal of Human Resources, Volume 32, No. 3, Summer 1997, pp. 505-523.

J. Carlisle, R. Correnti, G. Phelps, and J. Zeng, "Exploration of the contribution of teachers' knowledge about reading to their students' improvement in reading." Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Volume 22, No. 4, April 2009, pp. 457-486, includes evidence specifically related to the importance of secondary social studies knowledge.

In addition, research studies have demonstrated the positive impact of teacher content knowledge on student achievement.  For example, see D. Goldhaber, "Everyone's Doing It, But What Does Teacher Testing Tell Us About Teacher Effectiveness?" Journal of Human Resources, Volume 42, No. 4, Fall 2007, pp. 765-794.  Evidence can also be found in White, Presely, DeAngelis, "Leveling Up: Narrowing the Teacher Academic Capital Gap in Illinois", Illinois Education Research Council, Policy Research Report: IERC 2008-1, 44 p.; D. Goldhaber and D. Brewer, "Does Teacher Certification Matter? High School Teacher Certification Status and Student Achievement." Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Volume 22, No. 2, June 20, 2000, pp. 129-145; and D. Goldhaber and D. Brewer, "Why Don't Schools and Teachers Seem to Matter? Assessing the Impact of Unobservables on Educational Productivity." Journal of Human Resources, Volume 32, No. 3, Summer 1997, pp. 505-523. See also D. Harris and T. Sass, "Teacher Training, Teacher Quality, and Student Achievement". Calder Institute, March 2007, Working Paper 3.