Middle School Content Knowledge

2017 Secondary Teacher Preparation Policy

2017: 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


Do states require middle school candidates to demonstrate sufficient knowledge of every subject they are licensed to teach?

Add previous year
Figure details

Yes. State requires single-subject tests for every core subject a teacher is licensed to teach.: AL, AR, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MD, MO, MS, NC, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, SC, TN, TX, VA, VT, WV

Partially. State requires an insufficiently rigorous subject-matter test combining all subject areas into one score. : MA, WI

No. State only requires an elementary content test for candidates who will be licensed to teach through Grade 8.: AZ, ID, SD, WA

No. In addition to single subject tests, state also allows an elementary content test for candidates who will be licensed to teach through Grade 8.: AK, ME, MI, MN, MT, ND, NE, NH, NM, NV, OK, OR, UT

No. State does not require a test.: CA, CO, HI, IA, WY

CA: Candidates teaching multiple subjects only have to pass the elementary test. Single subject credential does not require test.
ID: For K-8 license, Idaho also requires one single-subject test.
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: 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. Teachers with a 5-8 license must pass a Praxis II 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 nondepartmentalized classrooms, generalist in middle childhood education candidates must pass the new assessment with three subtests.
TN: New legislation in Tennessee allows teachers to delay passage of content tests if they possess a bachelor's degree in a core content area.

Updated: April 2018

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