Middle School Teacher Preparation: California

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: California results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/CA-Middle-School-Teacher-Preparation-69

Analysis of California's policies

California has not adopted specific middle school teacher preparation policies. The state offers both a K-12 Single Subject Teaching Credential and a K-12 Multiple Subject Teaching Credential; therefore, the type of credential that middle school teachers are required to have depends on whether they intend to teach in a self-contained or a departmentalized classroom. 

In addition, only candidates who wish to earn a multiple-subject teaching credential must pass all three subtests of the state's subject-matter examination. Those who want a single-subject credential may demonstrate their subject-matter competence by either completing a state-approved subject-matter preparation program or passing the appropriate subject-matter examination. 

California's preparation and licensure requirements for middle school teachers do not ensure that teachers will be prepared to address the instructional shifts associated with college- and career-readiness standards.  Although the state's testing framework for its single-subject CSET English assessment has been recently revised to address informational texts and text complexity, thereby aligning it with the California's college- and career-readiness standards, candidates are not required to earn a passing score. To verify subject-matter competence, they must either complete a commission-approved subject-matter program or pass the test. 

Neither teacher standards nor tests in other content areas address incorporating literacy skills.

California has no requirements for the preparation of middle school teachers that address struggling readers.


Recommendations for California

Require content testing in all core areas.
California 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. The state's policy of only requiring middle school teachers who teach multiple subjects to take the same subject-matter test as elementary teachers is simply not adequate. Allowing middle school teachers to teach a single subject without passing a content test is unacceptable. To ensure meaningful middle school content tests, California should set its passing scores to reflect high levels of performance.

Prepare middle school teachers to teach middle school. 
California 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 California 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 California has aligned its single-subject English content test with the new standards for students, the state cannot guarantee teachers' knowledge of the instructional shifts toward building content knowledge and vocabulary through increasingly complex informational texts and careful reading of informational and literary texts unless teachers are required to pass the test. 

Incorporate literacy skills as an integral part of every subject. 

To ensure that secondary students are capable of accessing varied information about the world around them, California should include—either through testing frameworks or standards—literacy skills and using text as a means to build content knowledge in history/social studies, science, technical subjects and the arts.

Support struggling readers. 
California 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 secondary 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.

Close the loophole that allows teachers to add middle-grade levels to an existing license without demonstrating content knowledge.
California allows teachers to add a single-subject credential to a certificate with either program completion or the passing of a content test. The state is urged to require that all teachers who add the middle-grade levels to their certificates pass a rigorous subject-matter test to ensure content knowledge of all subject areas before they are allowed in the classroom.

State response to our analysis

The Commission on Teacher Credentialing asserted that it requires middle school teachers to be fully prepared for the content they are teaching and for the classroom setting in which they are instructing students. The Commission reiterated the requirements for candidates in self-contained or single-subject classrooms to demonstrate subject-matter preparation.

The Commission further asserted that NCTQ misunderstands and mischaracterizes the nature, scope and alignment of the coursework preparation option for demonstrating subject-matter competency for secondary teacher candidates. According to the Commission, the coursework requirements and the actual content covered within Commission-approved subject matter preparation programs must exactly match the CSET examination content specifications so that regardless of which route a candidate chooses (examination or program) the candidate is held responsible for knowing the same content and is assessed on that content.

The Commission stated that each Commission-approved subject-matter preparation program is required to submit documentation showing exactly where and how each of the Commission-adopted subject-matter requirements is addressed and candidates are assessed on this content within the program.

The Commission on Teacher Credentialing asserted that completion of a subject-matter preparation program is rigorous and not simply seat time, as NCTQ inaccurately assumes. The Commission maintained that coursework taken by candidates within Commission-approved subject-matter programs is not random or arbitrary or selected by the candidate him/herself, but rather it is carefully organized and focused to align with and address all the required subject-matter content. The Commission further noted that the documentation to support the consistency and alignment of subject-matter program coursework with the Commission's adopted subject-matter requirements is verified within the Commission's accreditation system.

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.