Secondary Teacher Preparation: Alaska

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.

Does not meet

Analysis of Alaska's policies

Alaska offers single-subject secondary licenses to teach grades 8-12. Alaska does not require content tests for initial licensure for secondary teachers or any other teachers; such tests are only mandated once candidates apply for the professional license, usually after three years.

Alaska also allows both general science and general social studies licenses and does not require subject-matter testing for each subject area within these disciplines (see "Secondary Teacher Preparation in Science and Social Studies" analysis and recommendations).

Secondary teachers in Alaska may add content areas to the five-year professional certificate in one of three ways: an institutional recommendation, including transcripts showing pertinent coursework; a posted degree, major or minor; or a passing score on a Praxis II content test.
For professional certification, secondary English candidates must pass the Praxis II English Language Arts: Content Knowledge (5038) test, which includes some of the instructional shifts toward building content knowledge and vocabulary through careful reading of informational and literary texts associated with these new standards.
Neither teacher standards nor secondary tests in other content areas address incorporating literacy skills.
Alaska has no requirements for the preparation of secondary teachers that address struggling readers.


Citation

Recommendations for Alaska

Require subject-matter testing for secondary teacher candidates. 
As a condition of licensure, Alaska 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. 

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

Alaska 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. While coursework 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.

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 Alaska'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, as a condition of initial licensure.

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, Alaska should also—either through testing frameworks or standards—include 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. 
Alaska 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

Alaska recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis.

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.