Impact of the no child left behind act in Alabama: a review.
On June 10, 2003, President Bush announced that every state had to have an accountability plan in place that strives to achieve the goals set forth by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA). When President Bush took office, only 11 states were in compliance. In fact, Alabama was one of the last of the 17 states to have their accountability plan approved by the federal government. Under the plan Alabama had to describe how every student would achieve academic proficiency, regardless of the academic or economic level of the student (U.S. Department of Education, 2003).
Alabama, along with the other 49 states, is responsible for submitting an annual progress report every summer between 2003 and 2006 to document the state's progress in meeting the requirement of every child being taught by a highly qualified teacher (Education News in Alabama, 2003a). The Alabama Association of School Administrators estimates that 15% of the current teachers in the state do not meet the highly qualified standards; it was originally predicted that 40% of the current teachers would not meet the standards (Education News in Alabama, 2003b). Of these estimated 15%, there are two groups. The first group is comprised of teachers who are not teaching in their field. The second group identifies those who lack one or two college credits in their core subject area (Education News in Alabama, 2003c).
The Alabama State Department of Education issues teacher certificates at three levels to individuals who have received a degree from a regionally accredited institution of higher education and completed a teacher education program approved by the state. The Class B certificate is awarded to those individuals who have completed a baccalaureate degree, Class A is given to those individuals that have completed a master's degree, and a Class AA is given to those graduates who have earned a sixth year degree or an educational specialist degree. During the last 19 years, perspective teachers enrolled in teacher preparation programs in Alabama were not required to pass a subject-specific test to receive certification. As of December 2002, prospective teachers have been given the Alabama Prospective Teacher Test (APTT). Prospective teachers must pass all three sections of the APTT and there is no limit to the number of times the test can be taken. Proficiency in applied reading for information, applied mathematics, and writing will have to be demonstrated for teacher certification. Also, applicants for alternative and preliminary certificates and applicants reinstating Professional Educator Certificates in teaching fields that have lapsed for more than six months from their expiration dates are required to pass the APTT. If an individual fails a portion of the test, the individual may be eligible for a compensation model. In this model an individual's grade point average (GPA) is combined with the test score. If an individual's test scores and GPA still do not meet passing requirements a remediation course designed by the state may satisfy requirements. However, some universities in the state require students to pass all portions of the test before graduation (Alabama Department of Education, 2003; Alabama Education News, 2003b).
The Alabama Department of Education issues emergency certificates. These certificates have been found not to meet the requirement set forth by NCLBA. The state department also issues three alternative route certificates that do not meet the NCLBA criteria: the Alternative Baccalaureate-Level Certificate, the Special Alternative Certificate, and the Preliminary Certificate (Alabama Education News, 2003b).
In June of 2003, policymakers for the state considered three options for those teachers who are considered under-certified. In the first option, the teachers would voluntarily take a subject-specific test to prove their proficiency in the subject area. In the second option, the state could endorse the Highly Objective Uniform State Standard of Evaluation (HOUSSE) model to assist teachers in becoming highly qualified. In this model, a professional reviews the credentials of the teacher using a flexible, non-standardized method. The last option would require the teacher to pass additional coursework (Education News in Alabama, 2003c).
In November of 2003, the state education leaders announced that under-certified teachers would be allowed to take the Praxis lion a voluntary basis. The Education Testing Service in Princeton, New Jersey developed the test. Sixteen Praxis H tests have been approved for meeting the requirements for establishing highly qualified status in regard to the Alabama Department of Education and the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. The Praxis II is used for testing teacher competency across content areas. The test was administered in Alabama four times in 2004 at: the University of South Alabama, Mobile; Troy State University, Troy; and Athens State University, Athens; University of Alabama at Birmingham; and Miles College, Birmingham. Teachers are allowed to take the test in other states but they must meet minimum passing scores that have been set in Alabama. Initially, the Praxis II will only be given to teachers in early childhood education, elementary education, elementary special education, middle school math, science, social studies, and English, middle school generalist, and reading specialist for pre-school through 12th grade. Minimum passing scores range from 118 on content knowledge for the mathematics teacher to 500 for reading specialist and economics teacher. Presently, eight tests are in the process of being validated. Teachers may take the tests that have not been validated but minimum scores have not yet been established. The Praxis II test became available to secondary teachers in the summer of 2004. The cost of the test ranges from $70 and $80, depending on the subject area. Test scores are released only to the test taker. State education leaders have assured teachers that they may take the test until they achieve a passing score and no negative consequences would be forthcoming if the teacher does not pass the test (Alabama Department of Education, 2004; Alabama School Journal, 2003a).
On November 1, 2003, the Alabama State Board of Education announced that a portfolio option would be available to already employed teachers to demonstrate subject competency. Several schools in Alabama piloted the high objective uniform state standard of evaluation (HOUSSE) in August, September, and October of 2003. This portfolio assessment option meets the requirements of the HOUSSE. The HOUSSE gives the veteran teacher credit for teaching experience in public schools, successful PEPE evaluations, coursework in a teacher's content area of instruction, professional development and service, leadership roles and local, state, and national recognitions, and student achievement-related activities (Baldwin County Education Association, 2003).
Analysts for Education Week (2003) surveyed the 50 states and the District of Columbia and reported their results in an article entitled "Quality Counts." This report scrutinizes what the states and the District of Columbia are doing to attract, retain, and support competent teachers for high-need schools. The investigation found that states have to guarantee a "highly qualified" teacher for every classroom. Each state was given a grade based on student achievement, standards and accountability, teacher quality, school climate, adequate resources, and equity of resources. The state of Alabama was given a D+ or a numerical grade of 67 on improving teacher quality. This grade was composed of four parts; i.e., 35% of the grade was based on teacher assessment and 30% of the grade was derived from the number of teachers in field. Moreover, 20% of the grade came from the degree of professional support and training given to the teachers and the final 15% came from the educational level of the teachers.
One of the main reasons the state of Alabama received such poor scores on teacher quality is that state lawmakers have designated the state's resources over the past six years toward teacher compensation and class size reduction. To improve teacher quality the state must focus its efforts in three areas: assessment, professional support and training, and compensation. In the area of assessment, Alabama lawmakers urgently need to develop and administer a test for teachers in each core subject area to determine instructional qualification in these areas. The state also needs to rework its teacher evaluation method, which is referred to as the Professional Education Personnel Evaluation (PEPE), to include specific goals, objectives, and strategies that teachers intend to implement in the classroom and improve student learning with regard to professional support and training. In the area of professional support and training, the state should consider broadening the Alabama Reading Initiative because it is an-excellent way to achieve continuous, ongoing professional development. A "lead" teacher should be placed in every school to make professional support and mentoring available to every classroom teacher. In addition, Alabama needs to develop a two-year induction program for new teachers. This program would mentor and train the new teachers as they commence their career. In the area of compensation, Alabama needs to explore ways to provide higher pay and additional incentives to teachers who are willing to work in schools in poverty areas. It has been noted that additional financial resources are needed to pay teachers to be lead teachers and mentors (Education Week, 2003).
Unfortunately, many teachers in Alabama are under-certified. In Mobile County alone, approximately one-third of the teachers are under-certified. In fact, Mobile County employs 4,000 teachers and 1,500 of these teachers are considered under-certified. Also, the middle schools are facing tremendous problems. The state requires teachers to complete 33 semester hours of college credit in the subject they are teaching. Many middle school teachers hold a general education certification; therefore, they do not meet requirements in Alabama to be considered highly qualified. If these teachers worked in an elementary school they might be considered highly qualified. Two problems identified with the middle schools are that many are departmentalized and teachers are responsible for a variety of subjects (Catalanello, 2003; Havner, 2003).
Benefits of the No Child Left Behind Act at the State Level Under the NCLBA
Under the NCLBA, states receive financial support in several different areas. Alabama, Colorado, and Florida were the first three states to receive grant money called Reading First. These resources assist schools and school districts in improving reading achievement by promoting comprehension reforms based on science, utilizing ongoing assessment, offering professional development, and observing reading achievement gains in grades K-3 in elementary school. In fact, Alabama received $15.5 million in 2002 and over the subsequent six years is scheduled to receive an additionally $102 million (The Achiever, 2002a).
The states of Arkansas, Florida, and Minnesota were chosen to receive $23.8 million in grants to assist schools and school districts establish or expand an already existing public school choice program. These grants were authorized under the NCLBA and fall under the Voluntary Public School Choice Program. Accordingly, students in low performing schools are provided the choice of transferring to high performing schools (The Achiever, 2002b).
Each year the U.S. Department of Education funds $100 million in grants for mathematics and science partnerships. Grants are awarded to partnership mathematics and science teachers in low achieving schools with corresponding professors in science, mathematics, and engineering departments at local colleges and universities. These grants have a threefold purpose: First, by bringing together high school teachers and scientists, mathematicians and engineers, the high school teacher's knowledge of his or her subject matter and research acumen is enhanced; Second, the grants provide additional ongoing professional development activities that relate directly to science and mathematics; Third, money is appropriated to recruit college students majoring in mathematics and science into the teaching field, to assist recent graduates in obtaining certification through alternative certification methods, and to provide teachers the opportunity to pursue graduate degrees. Other grant money is available to align mathematics and science curricula with state and local standards (The Achiever, 2003a).
Grants of nearly $100 million are available to school districts in The Teaching American History program which is designed to enlarge the teacher's knowledge of American history through continuing professional development. Teachers are encouraged to focus lessons on significant events and noteworthy individuals who have played important roles in the history of the United States. Emphasis is placed on encouraging good citizenship among students so they will in turn exercise their civic duties (The Achiever, 2003c).
Recently, Alabama had received additional funding to ensure quality educational services. In 2003, Alabama received $722.3 million to aid local schools, which is an increase of $87 million over the previous year. Title I funding increased to $182 million which is an increase of $34 million from the previous year. To support Alabama's goal to have highly qualified teachers in every classroom, the federal government is providing $45.4 million to train and keep teachers in the classroom. To help recruit math and science teachers in Alabama, the state has offered a financial incentive for students majoring in education. If the student commits to teach either math or science in a high poverty school the student is eligible for additional financial aid. In the fall of 2002, the program had only 24 applicants but there are hopes that there will be increased interest in the program in the near future (Alabama Education News, 2003a). The federal government provides approximately $4.5 million to after school programs for children who are found to be at risk and $199.5 million is provided in the form of Pell grants to assist students from a poor economic background to attend college. Furthermore, according to the Bush White House, $6.1 million has been provided to local school districts to assess students on their achievement level (Hough, 2003).
In summary, educators in Alabama have faced many challenges in meeting the requirements enacted in the NCLBA. Remarkable strides have been made in closing the achievement scores between minorities and low income students. Alabama has taken several important steps to improving teaching quality in the state and more highly qualified teachers are being placed in the classroom. In fact, The A + Education Foundation and the Peabody Center for Education Policy predicts that the number of highly qualified teachers will increase dramatically, possibly even double in the 2004-2005 school year, as teachers pass the PRAXIS II and complete the HOUSSE model (Alabama Education Policy Primer, 2005)
Alabama Department of Education. (2003). The Alabama model for identifying highly qualified teachers. Retrieved December 29, 2003, from ftp://ftp.alsde.edu/documents/66/SBE Alabama Model for Highly Qualfied Teachers.pdf
Alabama Department of Education. (2004). Highly qualified criteria and Praxis II tests. Retrieved June 19, 2004, from ftp://ftp.alsde.edu/documents/66/HighlyQualifiedAndPraxisll.doc
Alabama Education News. (2003a, May). Highly qualified teachers: Can you solve the puzzle?, 26, 3.
Alabama Education News. (2003b, November/ December). Teacher education & certification, 27, 4.
Alabama Education Policy Primer (2005). A Guide to Understanding K-12 schools. A+ Education Foundation. Retrieved October 9, 2005, from http://www.aplusala.org/primer/ch7.asp
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Baldwin County Education Association (2003, October). No child left behind update, 2, 1.
Catalanello, R. (2003, May 11). Highly qualified rule could sink some teachers. Mobile Register, pp. A1, A6.
Education News in Alabama. (2003a, January). Alabama receives low grades in national study. Retrieved June 19, 2003, from aplusala.org/libr/ednews/003/en03-jan13.asp
Education News in Alabama. (2003b, May). State board of education update. Retrieved June 19, 2003, from http://www.aplusala/org/libr/ednews/ 003/en03-may24.asp
Education News in Alabama. (2003c, June). State board of education update. Retrieved June 19, 2003, from http://www.aplusala.org/libr/ednews/003/en03-june16.asp
Education Week (2003, January 6). Quality counts 2003: If I can't learn from you. Retrieved June 19, 2003 from http//www.edweek.org
Havner, R. (2003, November 11). Teachers may take test to be qualified. Mobile Register, pp. B1, B6.
Hough, D. L. (2003). "No child left untested" battle cry guiding research and practice? Making research user-friendly. Middle School Journal, 35, 59-61.
The Achiever. (2002a, July). Alabama, Colorado, and Florida are reading first.
Retrieved June 15, 2003, from http://www.nochildleftbehind.gov/Newsletter/20020702.html
The Achiever. (2002b, November). $23.8 million given to support public school choice. 1, 1.
The Achiever. (2003c, June). No child left behind: Teaching American history, 2, 3.
U.S. Department of Education. (2003). President Bush, Secretary Paige, celebrate approval of every state accountability plan under no child left behind. Retrieved June, 15,2003, from http://www.ed.gov/PressRelearses/06-2003/06102003.html
Shawn H. Plash, Ed.D., instructor, Baldwin County school system, AL. Chris Piotrowski, research consultant, University of West Florida.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Chris Piotrowski, Dept. of Psychology, University of West Florida, Pensacola, FL 32514-5751.