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.
Kentucky requires a middle school specialization (grades 5-9) for all middle school teachers. Candidates have two options for earning this specialization. The first is completing a major in English and communications, mathematics, science or social studies; the second is completing an unspecified amount of coursework in two of those four academic fields.
All new middle school teachers in Kentucky are also required to pass a single-subject Praxis II content test to attain licensure; a general content knowledge test is not an option.
Commendably, Kentucky does not offer a K-8 generalist license.
Kentucky addresses 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 through its required assessment for middle school English teachers, the Praxis II Middle School English Language Arts (5047) test.
Neither teacher standards nor other middle school content tests address incorporating literacy skills.
Regarding struggling readers Kentucky's middle school English content test requires that a teacher be able to group students and differentiate instruction. However it does not specifically address the ability either to identify struggling readers or provide appropriate intervention.
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 Kentucky's English language arts content test for middle school teachers addresses informational texts, the state should strengthen its policy and ensure that teachers are 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, Kentucky should also include literacy skills and using text to build content knowledge in history/social studies, science, technical subjects and the arts.
Support struggling readers.
Kentucky should articulate more specific 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.
Ensure meaningful content tests.
To ensure meaningful middle school content tests, Kentucky should make certain that its passing scores reflect high levels of performance.
Prevent any loopholes in middle school teachers' subject-matter preparation.
Kentucky should consider strengthening its second option for middle school specialization to ensure that the amount of required coursework is equivalent to that of two minors.
The state also indicated that in February 2015, legislation
was passed mandating that all middle school, high school, grades 5-12, and grades P-12 certification educator preparation programs shall require that all candidates admitted after August 1, 2016, demonstrate the six (6) International Reading Association Standards 2010: Middle and High School Content Classroom Teacher as published in the Standards for Reading Professionals
Revised 2010. These standards set forth the criteria for developing and evaluating preparation programs for reading professionals, as well as for describing what candidates for the reading profession should know and be able to do in professional educational settings.
Kentucky added that in June 2015 a similar requirement for out-of-state prepared applicants of Kentucky teaching certificates was filed for passage as a proposed amendment to 16 KAR 4:030 to ensure synchronized implementation in the preparation of any teacher instructing in Kentucky.
differentiate middle school teacher preparation from that of elementary
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.