Licensure Deficiencies: Alabama

2017 General Teacher Prep Programs Policy

Goal

The state should ensure that new teachers who can teach elementary grades on an early childhood license possess sufficient content knowledge in all core subjects and know the science of reading instruction. This goal was consistent between 2015 and 2017.

Meets in part

Analysis of Alabama's policies

Content Test Requirements: Alabama's early childhood education teachers, who are licensed to teach grades PreK-3, are only required to pass the new Praxis II Early Childhood Education (5025) test. This test does not report separate subscores in the core content areas of language arts, math, science or social studies.

Scientifically Based Reading Instruction:
As a condition of initial licensure, Alabama requires all early childhood candidates to pass the Praxis Teaching Reading (5204) test, which addresses the five instructional components of scientifically based reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.

Informational Texts: The Early Childhood Education test addresses both the use of informational texts and text complexity. With regard to the incorporation of informational text of increasing complexity, teachers are required to know how to: "explain factors that contribute to text complexity (e.g., vocabulary, sentence complexity, images) [and] select appropriate texts for readers at various levels."

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."

Struggling Readers:
The Teaching Reading assessment also indirectly addresses struggling readers by requiring that a teacher "understands a variety of strategies to differentiate instruction" and "uses assessment data to inform instruction." Alabama's teacher standards 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

Require all early childhood candidates who are eligible to teach elementary grades to pass a subject-matter test designed to ensure sufficient content knowledge of all subjects.
Alabama should require all early childhood education teacher candidates who teach elementary grades to pass an elementary content test appropriately aligned with its college- and career-readiness standards. Although requiring a content test is a step in the right direction, the state should require separate, meaningful passing scores for each core subject covered on the test, including reading/language arts, math, science and social studies. Use of a composite passing score offers no assurance of adequate knowledge in each subject area. A candidate may achieve a passing score and still be seriously deficient in a particular subject area.

Ensure that early childhood teachers are prepared to meet the instructional requirements of college- and career-readiness standards for students.
Incorporate literacy skills as an integral part of every subject.
To ensure that elementary 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 all candidates who teach elementary grades are prepared to intervene and support students who are struggling. The early elementary grades are an especially important time to address reading deficiencies before students fall behind.

Monitor new reading assessment to ensure adequacy and rigor.
Although it is commendable that Alabama requires all early childhood education teacher candidates, who are licensed to teach elementary grades, to demonstrate knowledge of reading instruction, the test selected by the state is actually intended for reading specialists and accordingly spans the entire K-12 spectrum. The state should monitor this assessment to make sure it really is rigorous and an appropriate measure of teachers' knowledge of and skill in scientifically based early reading instruction. The track record of Praxis assessments in this regard is mixed at best, and the K-12 span might make it possible for candidates to achieve the passing score without sufficient knowledge and skills for the elementary classroom.

State response to our analysis

Alabama recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis.

How we graded

2D: Elementary Licensure Deficiencies

  • Adequate Content Knowledge: The state should ensure that all new elementary teacher candidates teaching under an early childhood license possess sufficient elementary content knowledge in all core subjects, including mathematics.
  • Scientifically Based Reading Instruction: The state should ensure that all new elementary teacher candidates teaching under an early childhood license are required to pass a rigorous test of scientifically based reading instruction. The design of the test should ensure that prospective teachers cannot pass without knowing the five scientifically based components of early reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.
  • College- and Career-Readiness Standards: The state should ensure that all new elementary teachers teaching under an early childhood license are sufficiently prepared for the ways that college- and career-readiness standards affect instruction in all subject areas. Specifically,
    • The state should ensure that these early childhood education teachers are prepared to incorporate informational texts of increasing complexity into instruction.
    • The state should ensure that these early childhood education teachers are prepared to incorporate literacy skills as an integral part of every subject.
    • The state should ensure that these early childhood education teachers are prepared to identify and support struggling readers.
Adequate Content Knowledge
One-half of the total goal score is earned based on the following:

  • One-half credit: The state will earn one-half of a point if it requires early childhood teachers to pass the same individually scored content tests as elementary teachers.
  • One-quarter credit: The state will earn one-quarter of a point if it requires early childhood teachers to pass the same content tests as elementary teachers, but the content tests are not individually scored.
Scientifically Based Reading Instruction
One-quarter of the total goal score is earned based on the following:

  • One-quarter credit: The state will earn one-quarter of a point if it requires all new early childhood teachers to pass a rigorous test of scientifically based reading instruction. The design of the test must ensure that all prospective teachers are competent in the five research-based components of early reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.
College- and Career-Readiness Standards
One-quarter of the total goal score is earned based on the following: 

  • One-quarter credit: The state will earn one-quarter of a point if its elementary teacher preparation tests or standards address the three components of college- and career-readiness standards. To earn credit, states must have at least one component "fully addressed" and two "partially addressed."

Research rationale

Early childhood teachers who teach elementary grades must be ready for the demands of the elementary classroom. Many states have early childhood licenses that include some elementary classroom grades, usually up to grade three.[1] Because teachers with this early childhood license can still teach many elementary grades, they should not be held to a lower bar for subject-matter knowledge than if they held more standard elementary licenses. Given the focus on building students' content knowledge and vocabulary in college- and career-readiness standards,[2] states would put students at risk by not holding all elementary teachers to equivalent standards.[3] That is not to say the license requirements must be identical; there are certainly different focuses in terms of child development and pedagogy. But the idea that content knowledge is only needed by upper-grade elementary teachers is clearly false.

Focus on reading instruction is especially critical for early childhood teachers. Although some states do not ensure that any elementary teachers know the science of how to teach young children to read, in the states where this is a priority, it is inexcusable to hold elementary teachers on an early childhood license to a lower standard. Research is clear that the best defense against reading failure is effective early reading instruction.[4] Therefore, if such licenses are neglecting to meet the needs of the early elementary classroom, of which learning to read is paramount, they are failing to meet one of their most fundamental purposes.


[1] National Council on Teacher Quality. (2016, June). Some assembly required: Piecing together the preparation preschool teachers need. Retrieved from http://www.nctq.org/dmsView/Preschool
[2] Student Achievement Partners. (2015). Research supporting the Common Core ELA/literacy shifts and standards. Retrieved from https://achievethecore.org/content/upload/Research%20Supporting%20the%20ELA%20Standards%20and%20Shifts%20Final.pdf
[3] Numerous research studies have established the strong relationship between teachers' vocabulary (a proxy for being broadly educated) and student achievement. For example: Wayne, A. J., & Youngs, P. (2003). Teacher characteristics and student achievement gains: A review. Review of Educational Research, 73(1), 89-122.; See also: Whitehurst, G. J. (2002, March). Scientifically based research on teacher quality: Research on teacher preparation and professional development. In White House Conference on Preparing Tomorrow's Teacher.; Ehrenberg, R. G., & Brewer, D. J. (1995). Did teachers' verbal ability and race matter in the 1960s? Coleman revisited. Economics of Education Review, 14(1), 1-21.; Research also connects individual content knowledge with increased reading comprehension, making the capacity of the teacher to infuse all instruction with content of particular importance for student achievement.; Willingham, D. T. (2006). How knowledge helps: It speeds and strengthens reading comprehension, learning, and thinking. American Educator, 30(1), 30. Retrieved from https://www.aft.org/periodical/american-educator/spring-2006/how-knowledge-helps
[4] Torgesen, J.K. (November 2005). Preventing reading disabilities in young children: Requirements at the classroom and school level. Presented at the Western North Carolina LD/ADD Symposium.; Walsh, K., Glaser, D., & Wilcox, D. D. (2006). What education schools aren't teaching about reading and what elementary teachers aren't learning. National Council on Teacher Quality. Retrieved from http://www.nctq.org/nctq/images/nctq_reading_study_app.pdf