Middle School Teacher Preparation: Arizona

Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy


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.

Does not meet goal
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2015). Middle School Teacher Preparation: Arizona results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/AZ-Middle-School-Teacher-Preparation-69

Analysis of Arizona's policies

Arizona only requires that middle school teachers, who are allowed to teach on a generalist 1-8 license, complete a teacher preparation program. Teachers with secondary licenses (6-12) may also teach single subjects in middle school. The state does not explicitly require a major or minor in the subject areas that the candidates plan to teach. 

Arizona offers an optional middle grades endorsement (grades 6-8) for teachers who already have either an elementary or secondary certificate "to expand the grades a teacher is authorized to teach on an elementary or secondary certificate."

Candidates who are teaching middle-level grades on the generalist license must only pass the elementary content test. The state offers NES middle school single-subject content assessments, presumably for candidates who are adding the middle grades endorsement. However, this requirement is not articulated in the regulation. 

The NES Middle Grades English Language Arts test includes some of the instructional shifts toward building content knowledge and vocabulary through careful reading of informational and literary texts associated with the state's college- and career-readiness standards for students, articulating that teachers must "understand strategies for reading informational texts."

Although the state's Professional Teaching Standards require that a teacher "Develops and implements supports for learner literacy development across content areas," this standard does not go far enough to ensure that teachers include literacy skills across the core content areas.

Arizona has no requirements for the preparation of middle school teachers who address struggling readers.


Recommendations for Arizona

Require content testing in all core areas.
Arizona should require subject-matter testing for all middle school teacher candidates in every core academic area they intend to teach as a condition of initial licensure. To ensure meaningful middle school content tests, the state should set its passing scores to reflect high levels of performance.

Eliminate the generalist license.
Arizona should not allow middle school teachers to teach on a generalist license that does not differentiate between the preparation of middle school teachers and that of elementary teachers. These teachers are less likely to be adequately prepared to teach core academic areas at the middle school level because their preparation requirements are not specific to the middle or secondary levels, and they need not pass a subject-matter test in each subject they teach. Adopting middle school teacher preparation policies for all such teachers will help ensure that students in grades 7 and 8 have teachers who are appropriately prepared to teach grade-level content, which is different and more advanced than what elementary teachers teach.   

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 Arizona who intend to teach a single subject should earn a major in that area.

Ensure that middle school teachers are prepared to meet the instructional requirements of college- and career-readiness standards for students.
Incorporate informational text of increasing complexity into classroom instruction. 
Although Arizona's English language arts content test for the middle school endorsement addresses informational texts, the state should ensure that all middle school teachers possess this knowledge and are further able to challenge students with texts of increasing complexity.

Incorporate literacy skills as an integral part of every subject. 
To ensure that middle school students are capable of accessing varied information about the world around them, Arizona should also—either through testing frameworks or teacher standards—include literacy skills and using text to build content knowledge in history/social studies, science, technical subjects and the arts.

Support struggling readers. 
Arizona should articulate requirements ensuring that middle school teachers are prepared to intervene and support students who are struggling. While college- and career-readiness standards will increase the need for all middle school teachers to be able to help struggling readers to comprehend grade-level material, training for English language arts teachers in particular must emphasize identification and remediation of reading deficiencies.

State response to our analysis

Arizona stated that rules governing the approval of educator preparation programs require "...that candidates demonstrate competencies as articulated in the Board approved professional teaching standards or professional administrative standards, relevant Board approved academic standards, and relevant national standards." The state noted that there is now a process in the review of educator preparation programs that requires evidence that program completers have been prepared to teach both Arizona Board approved academic standards and relevant national standards.

Arizona asserted that teachers holding elementary certificates who are teaching middle grade (6-8) single-subject content must pass the appropriate middle grades or secondary subject knowledge exam.

Last word

Although it does appear that teachers adding a 6-8 endorsement to an elementary certificate must pass middle school content tests, NCTQ can find no limitations on the usage of the 1-8 license. It may be the case that in order to be considered highly qualified to teach in a middle school classroom a teacher on the 1-8 license must have passed middle- or secondary-level content tests, but this does not appear to be a condition of licensure. If it is in fact the state's intention to prevent teachers on this license from teaching middle school, NCTQ wonders why the state continues to offer this 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.