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 and for the ways that college- and and career-readiness standards affect instruction of all subject areas.

Best practices

Arkansas ensures that all middle school teacher candidates are adequately prepared to teach middle school-level content. The state does not offer a K-8 generalist license, requires passing scores on subject-specific content tests and explicitly requires at least two content-area minors. Arkansas also ensures that middle school teachers are prepared to meet the instructional requirements of college- and career-readiness standards for students. The state’s competencies for the middle grades specify that middle school candidates must have the ability to not only build content knowledge and vocabulary through careful reading of informational and literary texts but also to challenge students with texts of increasing complexity. Candidates are also required to incorporate literacy skills as an integral part of every subject and are prepared to intervene and support students who are struggling.

Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2015). Middle School Teacher Preparation national results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/national/Middle-School-Teacher-Preparation-69
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Meets goal 5


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Progress on this goal since 2013

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

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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

No. State has insufficient content knowledge requirements.: MA, WI

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.
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.

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?

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Yes. State does not offer a K-8 license. : AL, AR, CO, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, HI, IA, IL, 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, OR, 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.

College- and career-readiness standards require significant shifts in literacy instruction.
College- and career-readiness standards for K-12 students adopted by nearly all states require from teachers a different focus on literacy integrated into all subject areas. The standards demand that teachers are prepared to bring complex text and academic language into regular use, emphasize the use of evidence from informational and literary texts and build knowledge and vocabulary through content-rich text. While most states have not ignored teachers' need for training and professional development related to these instructional shifts, few states have attended to the parallel need to align teacher competencies and requirements for teacher preparation so that new teachers will enter the classroom ready to help students meet the expectations of these standards.  Because middle school teachers in most states can be licensed either to be multi-subject teachers or generalists, middle school teachers need specialized preparation. Particularly for single subject teachers of areas other than English language arts, these instructional shifts may be especially acute. 

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.

For an extensive summary of the research base supporting the instructional shifts associated with college- and career-readiness standards, see "Research Supporting the Common Core ELA Literacy Shifts and Standards" available from Student Achievement Partners.