The state should ensure that new teachers who can teach elementary grades on an early childhood license possess sufficient content knowledge in all core subjects and know the science of reading instruction. This goal was consistent between 2015 and 2017.
Content Test Requirements:
Alabama's early childhood education teachers, who are licensed to teach grades PreK-3, are only required to pass the new Praxis II Early Childhood Education (5025) test. This test does not report separate subscores in the core content areas of language arts, math, science or social studies.
Scientifically Based Reading Instruction: As a condition of initial licensure, Alabama requires all early childhood candidates to pass the Praxis Teaching Reading (5204) test, which addresses the five instructional components of scientifically based reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.
Informational Texts: The Early Childhood Education test addresses both the use of informational texts and text complexity. With regard to the incorporation of informational text of increasing complexity, teachers are required to know how to: "explain factors that contribute to text complexity (e.g., vocabulary, sentence complexity, images) [and] select appropriate texts for readers at various levels."
Literacy Skills: The Alabama Quality Teacher Standards state that "effective teachers...model and actively teach their students the fundamentals of reading, writing, and oral communications across all content areas." The standards require that teachers must have the "ability to integrate reading instruction into all content areas that one teaches."
Struggling Readers: The Teaching Reading assessment also indirectly addresses struggling readers by requiring that a teacher "understands a variety of strategies to differentiate instruction" and "uses assessment data to inform instruction." Alabama's teacher standards require "knowledge of assessment tools to monitor the acquisition of reading strategies, to improve reading instruction, and to identify students who require additional instruction."
Require all early childhood
candidates who are eligible to teach elementary grades to pass a
subject-matter test designed to ensure sufficient content knowledge of all
Alabama should require all early childhood education teacher candidates who teach elementary grades to pass an elementary content test appropriately aligned with its college- and career-readiness standards. Although requiring a content test is a step in the right direction, the state should require separate, meaningful passing scores for each core subject covered on the test, including reading/language arts, math, science and social studies. Use of a composite passing score offers no assurance of adequate knowledge in each subject area. A candidate may achieve a passing score and still be seriously deficient in a particular subject area.
Ensure that early childhood teachers are prepared to meet the instructional requirements of college- and career-readiness standards for students.
Incorporate literacy skills as an integral part of every subject.
To ensure that elementary students are capable of accessing varied information about the world around them, Alabama should also—either through testing frameworks or teacher standards—more specifically include literacy skills and using text to build content knowledge in history/social studies, science, technical subjects and the arts.
Support struggling readers.
Alabama should articulate more specific requirements ensuring that all candidates who teach elementary grades are prepared to intervene and support students who are struggling. The early elementary grades are an especially important time to address reading deficiencies before students fall behind.
Monitor new reading assessment to ensure adequacy and rigor.
Although it is commendable that Alabama requires all early childhood education teacher candidates, who are licensed to teach elementary grades, to demonstrate knowledge of reading instruction, the test selected by the state is actually intended for reading specialists and accordingly spans the entire K-12 spectrum. The state should monitor this assessment to make sure it really is rigorous and an appropriate measure of teachers' knowledge of and skill in scientifically based early reading instruction. The track record of Praxis assessments in this regard is mixed at best, and the K-12 span might make it possible for candidates to achieve the passing score without sufficient knowledge and skills for the elementary classroom.
Alabama recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis.
2D: Elementary Licensure Deficiencies
Early childhood teachers who teach elementary grades must be ready for the demands of the elementary classroom. Many states have early childhood licenses that include some elementary classroom grades, usually up to grade three. Because teachers with this early childhood license can still teach many elementary grades, they should not be held to a lower bar for subject-matter knowledge than if they held more standard elementary licenses. Given the focus on building students' content knowledge and vocabulary in college- and career-readiness standards, states would put students at risk by not holding all elementary teachers to equivalent standards. That is not to say the license requirements must be identical; there are certainly different focuses in terms of child development and pedagogy. But the idea that content knowledge is only needed by upper-grade elementary teachers is clearly false.
Focus on reading instruction is especially critical for early childhood teachers. Although some states do not ensure that any elementary teachers know the science of how to teach young children to read, in the states where this is a priority, it is inexcusable to hold elementary teachers on an early childhood license to a lower standard. Research is clear that the best defense against reading failure is effective early reading instruction. Therefore, if such licenses are neglecting to meet the needs of the early elementary classroom, of which learning to read is paramount, they are failing to meet one of their most fundamental purposes.