Middle School Content Knowledge

Secondary Teacher Preparation Policy

Middle School Content Knowledge

The state should ensure that middle school 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. This goal was reorganized in 2017.

Best practices

Arkansas, Georgia, and Ohio earn "best practice" designations for ensuring that all middle school teacher candidates are adequately prepared to teach middle school-level content by not only requiring candidates to pass a licensing test in every core academic subject they are licensed to teach, but also requiring two areas of concentration in a content area.

Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2017). Middle School Content Knowledge National Results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/national/Middle-School-Content-Knowledge-84
Best practice 3


Meets goal 32


Nearly meets goal 5


Meets goal in part 2


Meets a small part of goal 1


Does not meet goal 8


State requires a test of middle school teacher candidates’ knowledge in every subject they are licensed to teach.

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Figure details

The state requires all teachers licensed to teach middle school to pass a single-subject test for every subject they are licensed to teach. An elementary content test is not an option.: AL, AR, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, MO, MS, NC, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, SC, TN, TX, VA, VT, WI, WV

The state allows some or all teachers licensed to teach middle school to only take an elementary test : AK, ME, MI, MN, MT, ND, NE, NH, NM, NV, OK, OR, SD, UT, WA

The state does not require any content test.: AZ, CA, CO, HI, IA, WY

AZ: Arizona only requires an elementary content test for candidates who will be licensed to teach through Grade 8 on a generalist license. Tests are optional for middle grades candidates.
CA: In California, candidates teaching multiple subjects only have to pass the elementary test. Candidates for a single subject credential may demonstrate their subject-matter competence by either completing a state-approved subject-matter preparation program or passing the appropriate subject-matter examination.
CO: In Colorado, passage of a content test is one of three options for demonstrating content knowledge.
HI: In Hawaii, passage of a content test is one of five options for demonstrating content knowledge.
IA: In Iowa, candidates have the option of passing a single-subject test or the edTPA. The edTPA is not a content test.
ID: For the K-8 license, Idaho also requires a single-subject test allowing the teaching of that subject through grade 9.
MA: In addition to single-subject licenses, the state offers two combinations licenses (Math/Science and Humanities) each of which requires a test that combines core content.
MD: Maryland allows elementary teachers to teach in departmentalized middle schools if not less than 50 percent of the teaching assignment is within the elementary grades.
NC: In North Carolina, teachers may have until second year to pass tests, if they attempt to pass them during their first year.
NH: New Hampshire requires K-8 candidates to have a core concentration and to pass a middle school content test in a core area, it's unclear whether this restricts the holder to only teaching that subject at the middle grade level. Teachers with a 5-8 license must pass a Praxis single subject assessment.
NJ: A candidate who fails to earn the passing score by 5 percent or less can still meet the subject matter requirement with a GPA of at least 3.5.
NY: For non-departmentalized classrooms, generalists in middle childhood education must pass the new assessment with three subtests.
TN: Tennessee allows teachers to delay passage of content tests if they possess a bachelor's degree in a core content area.
TX: In addition to single-subject licenses, Texas offers two combinations licenses (English Language Arts/Social Studies and Math/Science) each of which requires generalists to earn a "satisfactory level of performance" in each core subject covered by the examination.
WA: Washington also requires a subject-matter test combining all Humanities subject areas (English language Arts and social studies) into one score.
WI: Candidates in Wisconsin are only required to pass the Praxis II Middle School: Content Knowledge (5146) test, which combines core content into one composite score.
WY: Only middle school social studies teachers in Wyoming must pass a Praxis II content test.

Updated: December 2017

How we graded

3A: Middle School Content Knowledge 

  • Content Tests: The state should require that all new middle school teachers pass a separately scored subject-matter test in every core academic area for which they are licensed to teach.
Content Tests
The total goal score is earned based on the following:

  • Full credit: The state can earn full credit if it offers a middle school license and requires teachers to pass a licensing test in every core academic area in which they are licensed to teach. 
  • One-quarter credit: In some cases, a state can earn one-quarter of a credit for mitigating the negative aspects of a K-8 license, for example, requiring a single subject test to teach that subject at the middle school level.
  • 0/0 credit: The state will not earn any credit if it only offers a K-8 license and only requires an elementary content test.

Research rationale

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 can be especially problematic. States need 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. In order to do so, middle school teachers must be deeply knowledgeable about every subject they will be licensed to teach, and able to pass a licensing test in every core subject to demonstrate this knowledge.[1] 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.

[1] For additional research on the importance of subject matter knowledge, see: Dee, T. S., & Cohodes, S. R. (2008). Out-of-field teachers and student achievement: Evidence from matched-pairs comparisons. Public Finance Review, 36(1), 7-32.; Chaney, B. (1995). Student outcomes and the professional preparation of eighth-grade teachers in science and mathematics. NSF/NELS: 88 Teacher Transcript Analysis. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED389530; Weglinsky, H. (2000). How teaching matters: Bringing the classroom back into discussions of teacher quality (Policy Information Center report). Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service. Retrieved from http://www.ets.org/Media/Research/pdf/PICTEAMAT.pdf ; A report published by the National Mathematics Advisory Panel (NMAP) concludes that a teacher's knowledge of math makes a difference in student achievement. National Mathematics Advisory Panel. (2008). Foundations for success: The final report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel. US Department of Education. Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/about/bdscomm/list/mathpanel/report/final-report.pdf