The state should ensure that middle school teachers are sufficiently prepared to teach appropriate grade-level content.
Louisiana requires a middle grades certificate (grades 4-8) for all middle school teachers. Candidates must focus on two in-depth teaching areas that include language arts, science, social studies and mathematics. Each focus area consists of 19 credit hours total, including general education and focus-area coursework. The state also allows secondary teachers to teach middle school; they must earn a total of 31 hours of combined general education and focus-area coursework in the primary teaching area. They must also earn a total of 19 hours of coursework in a secondary teaching area.
All new middle school teachers in Louisiana 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, Louisiana does not offer a K-8 generalist license.
Praxis Test Requirement www.ets.org Louisiana Administrative Code, Title 28, Bulletin 746, Section 209, 211, 609
Ensure meaningful content tests.
To ensure meaningful middle school content tests, Louisiana should make certain that its passing scores reflect high levels of performance.
Close the loophole that allows teachers to add middle grade levels to an existing license without demonstrating content knowledge.
Louisiana allows teachers to add middle school area endorsements to certificates with either 30 credit hours in the area or a passing score 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.
Louisiana recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis.
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.
Approved programs should prepare middle school teacher candidates to be qualified to teach two subject areas.
Since current federal law requires most aspiring middle school teachers to have a major or pass a test in each teaching field, the law would appear to preclude them from teaching more than one subject. However, middle school teacher candidates could instead earn two subject-area minors, gaining sufficient knowledge to pass state licensing tests and be highly qualified in both subjects. This policy would increase schools' staffing flexibility, especially since teachers seem to show little interest in taking tests to earn highly qualified teaching status in a second subject once they are in the classroom. This only applies to middle school teachers who intend to teach multiple subjects. States must ensure that middle school teachers licensed only to teach one subject area have a strong academic background in that area.
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.