Middle School Teacher Preparation: Alabama

2015 General Teacher Prep Programs Policy

Goal

The state should ensure that middle school teachers are sufficiently prepared to teach appropriate grade-level content and for the ways that college- and and career-readiness standards affect instruction of all subject areas.

Nearly meets

Analysis of Alabama's policies

Commendably, Alabama does not offer a K-8 generalist license. The state 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 1) an academic major of at least 32 credit hours with at least 19 credit hours of upper-division credit and 2) 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 Praxis II single-subject content test to attain licensure. 

Alabama addresses some of the instructional shifts associated with college- and career-readiness standards toward building content knowledge and vocabulary through careful reading of informational and literary texts associated with these new standards through its required assessment for middle school English teachers, the Praxis II Middle School English Language Arts (5047) test.

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 that teachers must have the "ability to integrate reading instruction into all content areas that one teaches."

Regarding struggling readers, Alabama's middle school English content test requires that a teacher "knows commonly used research-based approaches to grouping and differentiated instruction to meet specific instructional objectives in English Language Arts" and "understands commonly used research-based strategies for teaching adolescent reading." 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."








Citation

Recommendations for Alabama

Ensure meaningful content tests. 
To ensure meaningful middle school content tests, Alabama should reevaluate its passing scores so that all tests reflect high levels of performance. For example, the passing score for the Praxis II Middle School English Language Arts test is set just above the 7th percentile. 

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.

Ensure that middle school 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 English language arts content test for middle school teachers 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 middle school 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 middle school teachers are prepared to intervene and support students who are struggling. While college- and career-readiness standards will increase the need for all middle school 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

Alabama recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis.

How we graded



Research rationale

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.

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.  Because middle school teachers in most states can be licensed either to be multi-subject teachers or generalists, middle school teachers need specialized preparation. Particularly for single subject teachers of areas other than English language arts, these instructional shifts may be especially acute. 

Middle School Teacher Preparation: Supporting Research
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. Foundations 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 T. Dee and S. Cohodes, "Out-of-Field Teachers and Student Achievement: Evidence from Matched-Pairs Comparisons." Public Finance Review, Volume 36, No. 1, January 2008, pp. 7-32; B. Chaney, "Student outcomes and the professional preparation of eighth-grade teachers in science and mathematics," in NSF/NELS:88 Teacher transcript analysis, 1995, ERIC, ED389530, 112 p.; 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, Volume 80, No. 2, October 1998, pp. 134, 136-138.

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.