Secondary Teacher Preparation: Arizona

2015 Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy

Goal

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.

Meets in part

Analysis of Arizona's policies

Arizona offers single-subject secondary licenses to teach grades 6-12. Although Arizona requires subject-matter testing for its secondary teachers, the state undermines this policy by allowing an exemption for candidates with a master's degree or higher in the subject area. 

In addition, candidates applying for a secondary certificate are exempted from subject-matter testing if they have work experience in science, technology, engineering or math and a postsecondary degree or 24 credit hours of relevant coursework in the subject they intend to teach. 

Secondary teachers in Arizona may add approved areas to their licenses as outlined above.

Arizona addresses few of the instructional shifts associated with college- and career-readiness standards. The state requires secondary English teachers to pass the NES English Language Arts assessment (those with master's degrees are exempted), which begins to include the instructional shifts toward building content knowledge and vocabulary through careful reading of informational and literary texts associated with these new standards. 

Although the state's Professional Teaching Standards require that a teacher "Develops and implements supports for learner literacy development across content areas," this standard does not go far enough to ensure that teachers include literacy skills across the core content areas.

Arizona has no requirements for the preparation of secondary teachers that address struggling readers.

Citation

Recommendations for Arizona

Require subject-matter testing for secondary teacher candidates.
As a condition of licensure, Arizona 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. While a degree—even an advanced degree—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. Arizona's intention to ease the path to licensure for those with STEM work experience is a good idea, but passing a content test should be the bottom line, not coursework requirements. 

Require subject-matter testing when adding subject-area endorsements.
Arizona 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. 

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 Arizona's required secondary English language arts content test addresses informational texts, the state should ensure that this test really captures the major instructional shifts of college- and career-ready standards. Arizona is encouraged to strengthen its teacher preparation requirements and ensure that all secondary English language arts candidates have the ability to adequately incorporate complex informational text into classroom instruction.  In addition, the state should require all teachers—even those with a master's degree—to pass a rigorous test. There is no assurance that an advanced degree will have included study of these instructional shifts.

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, Arizona should also include—either through testing frameworks or teacher standards—literacy skills and using text as a means to build content knowledge in history/social studies, science, technical subjects and the arts.

Support struggling readers. 

Arizona should articulate 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.


State response to our analysis

Arizona stated that rules governing the approval of educator preparation programs require "…that candidates demonstrate competencies as articulated in the Board approved professional teaching standards or professional administrative standards, relevant Board approved academic standards, and relevant national standards." The state noted that there is now a process in the review of educator preparation programs that requires evidence that program completers have been prepared to teach both Arizona Board approved academic standards and relevant national standards.

Arizona also asserted that the state does not consider the ability to waive a subject knowledge exam with a master's degree or higher in the content area as undermining the testing policy. A master’s degree requires more coursework than expected to successfully pass a content exam. The state noted that the work experience exemption only applies to the STEM teaching certificate. Arizona also clarified that candidates are only exempt from taking the English subject-matter test when the candidate holds a master's degree in English.




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. 

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.