2015 Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy
The state should ensure that secondary teachers are sufficiently prepared to teach appropriate grade-level content and for the ways that college- and career-readiness standards affect instruction of all subject areas.
Alabama offers secondary licenses to teach grades 6-12. The state requires that its secondary teacher candidates pass a Praxis II content test to teach any core secondary subjects.
Unfortunately, Alabama permits a significant loophole to this important policy by allowing both general science and general social studies licenses without requiring subject-matter testing for each subject area within these disciplines (see "Secondary Teacher Preparation in Science and Social Studies" analysis and recommendations).
To add an additional field to a secondary license, teachers must also pass a Praxis II content test. However, as stated above, Alabama cannot guarantee content knowledge in each subject for secondary teachers who add general science or general social studies endorsements.
Alabama addresses some of the instructional shifts associated with college- and career-readiness standards. Through its required assessment for English language arts teachers, the Praxis II English Language Arts: Content Knowledge (5038) test, the state addresses building content knowledge and vocabulary through careful reading of informational and literary texts associated with these new standards.
Secondary tests in other content areas do not address incorporating 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."
The state's teacher standards also require "knowledge of assessment tools to monitor the acquisition of reading strategies, to improve reading instruction, and to identify students who require additional instruction."
Alabama Administrative Code 290-3-2-.17; 290-3-3--.03; -.07, -.08 Praxis Testing Requirements www.ets.org
Require subject-matter testing for all secondary teacher candidates.
Alabama wisely requires subject-matter tests for most secondary teachers but should address any loopholes that undermine this policy (see "Secondary Teacher Preparation in Science and Social Studies" analysis and recommendations). This applies to the addition of endorsements as well. To ensure that its secondary content tests are meaningful, Alabama should reevaluate its passing scores so that all tests reflect high levels of performance. For example, the passing score for the Praxis II English Language, Literature and Composition: Content Knowledge test is set just above the 5th percentile.
Ensure that secondary teachers are prepared to meet the instructional requirements of college- and career-readiness standards for students.
Incorporate informational text of increasing complexity into classroom instruction. Although Alabama's required secondary English language arts content test addresses informational texts, the state should strengthen its policy and ensure that teachers are able to challenge students with texts of increasing complexity.
Incorporate literacy skills as an integral part of every subject. To ensure that secondary 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 secondary teachers are prepared to intervene and support students who are struggling. While college- and career-readiness standards will increase the need for all secondary teachers to be able to help struggling readers to comprehend grade-level material, training for English language arts teachers in particular must emphasize identification and remediation of reading deficiencies.
Alabama recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis.
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.
College- and career-readiness standards require significant shifts in literacy instruction.
College- and career-readiness standards for K-12 students adopted by nearly all states require from teachers a different focus on literacy integrated into all subject areas. The standards demand that teachers are prepared to bring complex text and academic language into regular use, emphasize the use of evidence from informational and literary texts and build knowledge and vocabulary through content-rich text. While most states have not ignored teachers' need for training and professional development related to these instructional shifts, few states have attended to the parallel need to align teacher competencies and requirements for teacher preparation so that new teachers will enter the classroom ready to help students meet the expectations of these standards. Particularly for secondary teachers of subjects other than English language arts, these instructional shifts may be especially acute.
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 (2008); 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.
For an extensive summary of the research base supporting the instructional shifts associated with college- and career-readiness standards, see "Research Supporting the Common Core ELA Literacy Shifts and Standards" available from Student Achievement Partners.