Middle School Teacher Preparation : Alabama

2011 Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy


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

Nearly meets
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Middle School Teacher Preparation : Alabama results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/AL-Middle-School-Teacher-Preparation--6

Analysis of Alabama's policies

Alabama offers two options for the preparation of middle school teachers (grades 4-8). The first option is a comprehensive teaching license with a specialization in English language arts, general science or general social science that includes both of the following: an academic major of at least 32 credit hours with at least 19 credit hours of upper-division credit and at least one course in each of the specified areas included in the comprehensive teaching field. The second option is a single teaching field with an academic major that includes a minimum of 32 credit hours with at least 19 credit hours of upper-division credit.

The only option for middle-level math certification is a single teaching field with an academic major that includes a minimum of 32 semester hours of credit with at least 19 semester hours of upper-division credit.

All new middle school teachers in Alabama are also required to pass a single-subject Praxis II content test to attain licensure; a general content knowledge test is not an option.


Recommendations for Alabama

Strengthen middle school teachers' subject-matter preparation.
Alabama is commended for not allowing middle school teachers to teach on a K-8 generalist license. To further strengthen middle school teachers' subject-matter preparation, Alabama should encourage middle school teachers who plan to teach multiple subjects to earn two minors in two core academic areas, rather than a single major. However, the state should retain its requirement for a subject-area major for middle school candidates who intend to teach a single subject.

State response to our analysis

Alabama was helpful in providing NCTQ with facts that enhanced this analysis. The state added that the academic major must match the courses required for the institution's mathematics major provided for nonteacher education students enrolled in the institution. Therefore, requirements for the preparation of middle-level math teachers are identical to the academic major requirement for secondary math teachers. Further, if prescribed courses in the "pure" mathematics major do not assure compliance with Alabama's knowledge and ability standards for the preparation of mathematics teachers, "pure" major elective course options may be used to require courses that do address those standards.

How we graded

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.  

Research rationale

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. Foundation 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 Dee and Chodes, "Out-of-Field Teaching and Student Achievement; Evidence from Matched-Pairs Comparisons." Public Finance Review (2008); as B. Chaney, "Student outcomes and the professional preparation of 8th grade teachers," in NSF/NELS 88: Teacher transcript analysis (Rockville, MD: Westat, 1995); 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 80, No. 2 (1998): 134-138.