The state should ensure that its teacher preparation programs provide elementary teachers with a broad liberal arts education, the necessary foundation for teaching to the Common Core Standards.
Although Alabama has adopted the Common Core Standards, the state does not ensure that its elementary teacher candidates are adequately prepared to teach the rigorous content associated with these standards.
Alabama requires candidates to pass the Praxis II general elementary content test, which does not report teacher performance in each subject area, meaning that it is possible to pass the test and still fail some subject areas, especially given the state's low passing score. Further, based on available information on the Praxis II, there is no reason to expect that the current version would be well aligned with the Common Core Standards.
In addition, all teacher candidates in Alabama must complete coursework in the humanities, social science and science. Elementary teacher candidates, specifically, must complete 12 credit hours each in English, science and social science. (For mathematics requirements, see Goal 1-D.) Unfortunately, the state's coursework requirements lack the needed specificity to guarantee relevancy to the elementary classroom.
Alabama's teacher standards address some important subject areas, particularly reading and writing instruction. The standards also mention areas in science, such as physical, life and earth science, and in social studies, such as geography, economics and political science. However, crucial areas are missing, such as American and world history; American, world and children's literature; and art history.
Finally, there is no assurance that arts and sciences faculty will teach liberal arts classes to elementary teacher candidates.
Require a content test that ensures sufficient knowledge in all subjects.
Alabama should ensure that its subject-matter test for elementary teacher candidates is well aligned with the Common Core Standards, which represent an effort to significantly raise the standards for the knowledge and skills American students will need for college readiness and global competitiveness.
The state should also require separate passing scores for each content area on the test because without them it is impossible to measure knowledge of individual subjects. Further, to be meaningful, Alabama should ensure that these passing scores reflect high levels of performance.
Provide broad liberal arts coursework relevant to the elementary classroom.
Alabama should either articulate a more specific set of standards or establish comprehensive coursework requirements that are specifically geared to the areas of knowledge needed by PK-6 teachers. Further, the state should align its requirements for elementary teacher candidates with the Common Core Standards to ensure that candidates will complete coursework relevant to the common topics in elementary grades. An adequate curriculum is likely to require approximately 36 credit hours in the core subject areas of English, science, social studies and fine arts.
Require at least an academic concentration.
An academic concentration, if not a full academic major, would not only enhance Alabama teachers' content knowledge, but it would also ensure that prospective teachers have taken higher-level academic coursework. Further, it would provide an option for teacher candidates unable to fulfill student teaching or other professional requirements to still earn a degree.
Ensure that arts and sciences faculty teach liberal arts coursework.
Although an education professor is best suited to teach effective methodologies in subject instruction, faculty from the university's college of arts and sciences should provide the subject-matter foundation.
Alabama recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. The state added that it has adopted a resolution in support of the Common Core Standards and has found a close link between them and the content prescribed in the Alabama Course of Study. Program approval standards require that candidates are able to teach to the content of the course(s) of study applicable to their teaching field(s).
Alabama also noted that prior to approval, programs must comply with the Alabama Quality Teaching Standards and the requirements unique to elementary education. In addition to submitting a performance assessment template (PAT) indicating which required courses meet each standard for elementary education, institutions submit a checklist that specifies all of the courses required to complete a program. Courses are taught by faculty in the arts and sciences, and verification may be obtained by reviewing institution catalogs or by surveying deans of education.
In addition, Alabama pointed out that programs must also meet standards that address the typical teaching responsibilities of elementary teachers in the areas of reading, writing, and oral language; science; mathematics; social studies; the arts; health education; and physical education.
Further, the state asserted that NCTQ recommends but does not define a "concentration," indicating that a concentration would enhance teachers' content knowledge. Alabama questioned whether the requirement of upper-level courses in one subject would improve an elementary teacher's ability to teach all subjects.
Finally, the state added that it is beginning to modify and enhance its testing requirements. The first group of new assessments includes a reading test. The next group to be validated will include a test that requires prospective elementary teachers to earn a passing score in each of four academic disciplines: English language arts, mathematics, science and social science.