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
Best practice 1


Meets goal 5


Nearly meets goal 20


Meets goal in part 5


Meets a small part of goal 10


Does not meet goal 10


Progress on this goal since 2013

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

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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 : AZ, ME, MI, MN, ND, NH, NM, NV, OK, OR, SD, UT, WA

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

CA: Candidates teaching multiple subjects only have to pass the elementary test. Single subject credential does not require test.
CO: Colorado teacher candidates may demonstrate content knowledge by either completing 24 semester hours of course credit, as demonstrated through transcript evaluation, or passing a content test relevant to the subject area.
HI: In Hawaii, passage of a content test is one of five options for demonstrating content knowledge.
IA: Middle school candidates in Iowa have the option of passing a single-subject content test or the edTPA, which is not a content test.
ID: For the K-8 license, Idaho also requires one single-subject test allowing the teaching of that subject through grade 9.
MA: Massachusetts offers single-subject licenses as well as two combination licenses. Tests required for the combination licenses combine 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: 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, however teachers are not restricted to teaching just that subject in the middle grades. Teachers with a 5-8 license must pass a Praxis single-subject test.
NY: In New York, for non-departmentalized classrooms, generalists in middle childhood education must pass the middle school multi-subject content specialty test 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.
TX: Texas offers single subject tests as well as a Core Subjects (4-8) Generalist test which requires" satisfactory level of performance" in each core subject. The state also offers one combination test in English/language arts and social studies.
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 alternate route teachers and traditional route middle school social studies teachers in Wyoming must pass single-subject tests

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, ND, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, SC, TN, TX, VA, VT, WV, WY

No. State has insufficient license structures. : AK, AZ, CA, ID, ME, MI, MN, MT, NE, NH, NM, NV, OK, OR, SD, UT, WA, WI

AZ: Offers 1-8 license.
CA: California offers a K-12 generalist license for all self-contained classrooms.
ND: North Dakota offers a 1-8 license.
OK: Oklahoma offers a 1-8 license, with the exception of mathematics.
UT: Utah offers a grades 1-8 license.
WI: Offers a 1-8 license.

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.