Secondary Teacher Preparation: Arkansas

2015 General Teacher Prep Programs 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.

Best Practice

Analysis of Arkansas's policies

Arkansas offers single-subject secondary licenses to teach grades 7-12. The state requires that its secondary teacher candidates pass a Praxis II content test to teach any core secondary subjects. 

Unfortunately, Arkansas permits a significant loophole to this important policy by allowing a combination science and general social studies license without requiring subject-matter testing for each subject area within these disciplines (see "Secondary Teacher Preparation in Science and Social Studies" analysis and recommendations).

Further, to add an additional field to either the three-year initial or standard secondary license, teachers must also pass a Praxis II content test. However, as stated above, Arkansas cannot guarantee content knowledge in each specific subject for secondary teachers who add the combination science or general social studies endorsements.

Arkansas addresses most of the instructional shifts associated with college- and career-readiness standards. The state does this by including the instructional shifts toward building content knowledge and vocabulary through increasingly complex informational texts and careful reading of informational and literary texts in its educator competencies for secondary English language arts teachers.

Arkansas's competencies for other secondary content areas also address incorporating literacy skills. For example, the secondary social studies competency to "incorporate disciplinary literacy" states that "reading competencies for literacy in history/social studies for grades 7-12 include the ability to read informational texts in history and social studies closely and critically to analyze the key ideas and details as well as craft and structure with the purpose of integrating knowledge and ideas both within and across texts...." A similar competency exists for both the life science and physical science secondary certifications. 

Regarding struggling readers, Arkansas's competencies for English language arts teachers require the "ability to identify the differentiated needs of secondary level readers and strategically address them."

Citation

Recommendations for Arkansas

Require subject-matter testing for all secondary teacher candidates. 
Arkansas 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.

Ensure that secondary teachers are prepared to meet the instructional requirements of college- and career-readiness standards for students.
Support implementation of new state standards. 
Although Arkansas's required competencies for secondary teachers are commendable, the state is encouraged to strengthen its policy by making certain there is common understanding that the new college- and career-readiness standards require challenging students with texts of increasing complexity and may require shifts in what has been traditionally considered "developmentally appropriate."

Adequately align test with state competencies. 
Although Arkansas's secondary teacher competencies are extensive, the testing framework for the state's content assessment does not appear to adequately address the instructional shifts in the use of text required under the new standards. Therefore, Arkansas should be mindful that this test may not measure up to its new standards for teachers in terms of English language arts, or in terms of connecting literacy and text to the other core subject areas.

Support struggling readers. 
Arkansas 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.

State response to our analysis

Arkansas 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.