Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy
The state should ensure that middle school teachers are sufficiently prepared to teach appropriate grade-level content.
Arkansas now offers initial middle-grade certification in the four content areas: math, science, English and social studies. For initial licensure, candidates must choose any two of the four content areas. The state also requires three credit hours in Arkansas history.
All new middle school teachers in Arkansas are required to pass a single-subject Praxis II content test to attain licensure; a general content knowledge test is not an option.
Commendably, Arkansas does not offer a K-8 generalist license.
Pending draft rules will require that applicants seeking licensure in middle childhood will have to pass at least two of the state-required content assessments and earn concentrations (18 semester hours) in at least two content areas as well.
New Areas of Licensure http://www.arkansased.org/public/userfiles/HR_and_Educator_Effectiveness/HR_Educator_Licensure/NEW_AREAS_AND_LEVELS_BY_CODES_2-11-2013.pdf Rules, Appendix A http://www.arkansased.org/public/userfiles/rules/Current/ade317_-_Licensure_-_March_2013.pdf
Ensure meaningful content tests.
To ensure meaningful middle school content tests, Arkansas should make certain that its passing scores reflect high levels of performance.
Encourage middle school teachers licensed to teach multiple subjects to earn two subject-matter minors.
This would allow candidates to gain sufficient knowledge to pass state licensing tests, and it would increase schools' staffing flexibility. However, middle school candidates in Arkansas who intend to teach a single subject should earn a major in that area.
Arkansas was helpful in providing NCTQ with facts that enhanced this analysis. The state asserted that middle grade candidates must earn a minimum of 18 semester hours in each of the two content areas.
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.