Middle School Teacher Preparation

Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy

Middle School Teacher Preparation

The state should ensure that middle school teachers are sufficiently prepared to teach appropriate grade-level content.

Best practices

Georgia, Mississippi, New Jersey and South Carolina ensure that all middle school teacher candidates are adequately prepared to teach middle school-level content. None of these states offers a K-8 generalist license and all require passing scores on subject-specific content tests. Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina explicitly require at least two content-area minors, and New Jersey requires a content major along with a minor for each additional area of certification. 

Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2013). Middle School Teacher Preparation national results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/national/Middle-School-Teacher-Preparation-20
Best practice 4


Meets goal 19


Nearly meets goal 4


Meets goal in part 3


Meets a small part of goal 7


Does not meet goal 14


Progress on this goal since 2011

  • Improved
  • Stayed the same
  • Regressed

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

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, IA, IN, KS, KY, LA, MD, MO, MS, NC, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, SC, TX, VA, VT, WV

The state allows some or all teachers licensed to teach middle school to only take an elementary test : MA, TN, WI

The state does not require any content 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 education grades.
NC: North Carolina teachers may have until second year to pass tests, if they attempt to pass them during their first year.
NY: In New York, for nondepartmentalized classrooms, generalist in middle childhood education candidates must pass new assessment with three subtests.

Do states’ licensure structures appropriately distinguish between the knowledge and skills needed to teach middle grades and the knowledge and skills needed to teach elementary grades?

Add previous year
Figure details

Yes. State does not offer a K-8 license. : AL, AR, CO, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, HI, IA, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, MO, MS, NC, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, SC, TN, TX, VA, VT, WV, WY

No. State has insufficient license structures. : CA, MI, MN, NE, UT

CA: California offers a K-12 generalist license for all self-contained classrooms.

Research rationale

States must differentiate middle school teacher preparation from that of elementary teachers.

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 are among the weakest state policies. Too many states fail 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 do. 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.

Approved programs should prepare middle school teacher candidates to be qualified to teach two subject areas.

Since current federal law requires most aspiring middle school teachers to have a major or pass a test in each teaching field, the law would appear to preclude them from teaching more than one subject. However, middle school teacher candidates could instead earn two subject-area minors, gaining sufficient knowledge to pass state licensing tests and be highly qualified in both subjects. This policy would increase schools' staffing flexibility, especially since teachers seem to show little interest in taking tests to earn highly qualified teaching status in a second subject once they are in the classroom.  This only applies to middle school teachers who intend to teach multiple subjects.  States must ensure that middle school teachers licensed only to teach one subject area have a strong academic background in that area.

Middle School Teacher Preparation: Supporting Research

A report published by the National Mathematics Advisory Panel (NMAP) concludes that a teacher's knowledge of math makes a difference in student achievement. U.S. Department of Education. Foundations for Success: The Final Report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education (2008).

For additional research on the importance of subject matter knowledge, see T. Dee and S. Cohodes, "Out-of-Field Teachers and Student Achievement: Evidence from Matched-Pairs Comparisons." Public Finance Review, Volume 36, No. 1, January 2008, pp. 7-32; B. Chaney, "Student outcomes and the professional preparation of eighth-grade teachers in science and mathematics," in NSF/NELS:88 Teacher transcript analysis, 1995, ERIC, ED389530, 112 p.; H. Wenglinsky, How Teaching Matters: Bringing the Classroom Back Into Discussions of Teacher Quality (Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service, 2000).

For information on the "ceiling effect," see D. Goldhaber and D. Brewer, "When should we reward degrees for teachers?" in Phi Delta Kappan, Volume 80, No. 2, October 1998, pp. 134, 136-138.