Middle School Teacher Preparation: Illinois

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.

Nearly meets goal
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2015). Middle School Teacher Preparation: Illinois results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/IL-Middle-School-Teacher-Preparation-69

Analysis of Illinois's policies

Beginning in 2018, Illinois will require middle grades certification (grades 5-8) for all middle school teachers. In order to add a middle school content endorsement, teacher candidates must already hold an elementary education (K-9), secondary education (9-12), or special education (K-12 or PreK-21) endorsement on their license.

Candidates will be required to complete a major in middle grades education as well as an additional 24 hours of coursework in the desired middle grades content area (math, literacy, science or social science).

Middle school candidates will be required to take middle school content exams if they are available.  It is not clear if this means that a separate passing score will be required for every subject, and test frameworks are not yet available.

Illinois's new standards for endorsements in the middle grades include the instructional shifts toward building content knowledge and vocabulary through increasingly complex texts and careful reading of informational and literary texts associated with the state's college- and career-readiness standards for students.

English language arts standards for literacy teachers in the middle grades require them to understand:

  • The quantitative, qualitative and individual factors that affect text complexity, including how to estimate text readability
  • The organizational text structures, literary devices, rhetorical features, text features and graphics commonly used in literary and informational texts
  • The characteristics of various genre or forms of literary and informational text.
These teachers are also required to:

  • Teach students to recognize literary elements and devices across literary genres and forms of informational text
  • Use a wide range of high-quality literature and informational texts, including primary sources
  • Select literature and informational texts that address the interests, backgrounds and learning needs of each student.

Illinois further articulates literacy standards for all teachers in the middle grades. In addition to similar ones listed above, all middle school teachers must understand "the role, perspective and purpose of text in specific disciplines" and be able to do the following:

  • Scaffold reading to enable students to understand and learn from challenging text
  • Guide close reading discussions that require students to identify the key ideas and details of a text, analyze the text's craft and structure (including the tone and meaning of words) and critically evaluate the text
  • Teach students to trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text and to distinguish claims that are supported by reasons and evidence from those claims that are not supported
  • Provide instruction in interpreting graphic features and their relationship to text
  • Guide students to use note-taking, previewing, identification of main idea and supporting details and review strategies to clarify and solidify comprehension
  • Support students in analyzing the organizational structure of texts and in considering how specific sentences, paragraphs and larger portions of the text relate to each other and to the text as a whole
  • Assist students with recognizing features of text common to individual disciplines
  • Guide students to identify and analyze content in texts that indicates point of view, perspective, purpose, fact, opinion, speculation and audience
  • Guide the reading of multiple texts to enable students to comparatively analyze and evaluate information and synthesize information from the texts into a coherent understanding of a topic
  • Model and encourage the use of reading strategies to improve comprehension.

The state addresses the needs of struggling readers in its teacher standards.


Recommendations for Illinois

Require content testing in all core areas.
Illinois 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. It appears that the state is moving toward requiring content testing for every core subject however, draft test frameworks were not available for review.

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

State response to our analysis

Illinois noted that middle level content exams in English/language arts, math, science, and social science are currently in development. In order to pass the exam, candidates must successfully complete each section.  All sections of the exam, regardless of specialization, will include a subsection on literacy.

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.