Middle School Teacher Preparation: Colorado

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.

Meets a small part of goal
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2015). Middle School Teacher Preparation: Colorado results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/CO-Middle-School-Teacher-Preparation-69

Analysis of Colorado's policies

All middle-level teacher candidates in Colorado must earn a secondary (7-12) certification in a specific subject area. 

Secondary teachers 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. 

Colorado addresses some of the instructional shifts toward building content knowledge and vocabulary through careful reading of informational and literary texts associated with college- and career-readiness standards through its literacy standards for preparation programs.

Colorado's literacy standards outline the following competencies regarding the use of informational texts:

  • Teach students to summarize, make inferences, draw conclusions and interpret complex information in literary, informational and technical texts
  • Teach students to follow extended instructions in informational or technical texts
  • Teach students to analyze literary and informational texts to determine 1) text forms, literary element, and text features related to meaning and 2) the historical period in which they were written
  • Teach students to evaluate complex informational and technical texts, including electronic texts, for their accuracy, clarity and coherence.
The literacy standards also require teachers to develop reading comprehension that incorporates content area literacy.
Teachers are required to be able to "teach the conventions, elements and text structures associated with informational texts drawn from history, mathematics, science and other content areas, including author's purpose or stance, organizational plan, etc."

Regarding struggling readers, Colorado's literacy standards require teachers to "select, use and interpret formal and informal assessments of reading comprehension and use them to make instructional decisions and to plan instructional interventions targeted for improved student outcomes." A similar competency exists for reading fluency.

However, pending legislation can potentially undermine Colorado's current policies, which go further than most states' to ensure that elementary teachers are prepared to meet the instructional requirements of college- and career-readiness standards for students.


Recommendations for Colorado

Require content testing in all core areas.
Colorado 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.

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

Close the loophole that allows teachers to add middle-grade levels to an existing license without demonstrating content knowledge.
Colorado allows teachers to add new secondary areas with either coursework or a passing grade on 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. 

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 Colorado's literacy standards address complex texts, they do not ensure teachers' ability to incorporate these texts into instruction. The state is therefore encouraged to strengthen its teacher preparation requirements and ensure that all candidates who teach the middle grades have the ability to address the use of informational texts as well as incorporate complex informational texts into classroom instruction.

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, Colorado should also more specifically include literacy skills and using text to build content knowledge in history/social studies, science, technical subjects and the arts.

State response to our analysis

Colorado indicated that the state's Educator Licensing Act is being updated and aligned with current state standards and initiatives.
The alignment work will include adoption of assessments for teachers who match the standards adopted in rule. The state also reiterated that teachers in grades 7 and 8 must meet the same content requirements as high school teachers for the secondary content endorsement they teach.

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.