Middle School Content Knowledge:

Secondary Teacher Preparation 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 career-readiness standards affect instruction of all subject areas. This goal was reorganized in 2017.

Meets goal in part
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2017). Middle School Content Knowledge: Massachusetts results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/MA-Middle-School-Content-Knowledge-84

Analysis of Massachusetts's policies

Content Test Requirements: Massachusetts requires a middle school certificate (grades 5-8) for all middle school teachers. All new middle school teachers in Massachusetts are required to pass a subject-matter portion of the Massachusetts Test for Educator Licensure (MTEL). For those seeking single-subject certification, a single-subject content test is required. However, for the combination certificates, the tests combine mathematics with science and English with history. Although the state provides subscores for the combination tests, they are only used to provide insight into the candidate's strengths and weaknesses.

Academic Requirements: Massachusetts requires all teacher candidates to complete "a major in one or more academic subjects in the arts or sciences or for a major appropriate to the instructional field of the license sought."

Middle School Licensure Deficiencies: In addition to single-subject licenses and test requirements, Massachusetts also offers the Middle School English/History license and Math/Science Middle School license. These licenses require passage of the applicable combination test. There are no subscores for each subject.


Recommendations for Massachusetts

Require content testing in all core areas.
As a condition of initial licensure, all candidates teaching middle grades in Massachusetts should have to pass a subject-matter test in every core academic area they intend to teach. For teachers pursuing combination certificates, it may be possible to answer many questions on one subject incorrectly and still pass the test. This could be accomplished without altering the state's current structure by requiring passing scores for each subject on the combination score, rather than just providing subscores. To ensure meaningful middle school content tests, the state should set its passing scores to reflect high levels of performance.

Refine middle school subject-matter preparation policy.
Massachusetts should be more specific about its coursework requirements so that it is requiring the equivalent of two academic minors. Middle school candidates who intend to teach a single subject should earn a major in that area.

State response to our analysis

Massachusetts indicated that the MTEL Middle School Science/Math test is required for the Math/Science Middle School license, and the Middle School English/History test is required for the Middle School English/History license. This is one test; there are no subtests. A passing score for the test is provided; there are no subtest scores. The license (and test) are designed for candidates who will be teaching both subject areas and allows for more flexibility in staffing. The state added that candidates who wish to teach each of these subjects full time must hold a license in the individual field and pass the appropriate full-length test in the subject area. For example, in order to teach middle school math full time, a candidate must hold the Middle School Math license and pass the Middle School math test, not the Middle School Math/Science license.

Updated: December 2017

How we graded

3A: Middle School Content Knowledge 

  • Content Tests: The state should require that all new middle school teachers pass a separately scored subject-matter test in every core academic area for which they are licensed to teach.
Content Tests
The total goal score is earned based on the following:

  • Full credit: The state can earn full credit if it offers a middle school license and requires teachers to pass a licensing test in every core academic area in which they are licensed to teach. 
  • One-quarter credit: In some cases, a state can earn one-quarter of a credit for mitigating the negative aspects of a K-8 license, for example, requiring a single subject test to teach that subject at the middle school level.
  • 0/0 credit: The state will not earn any credit if it only offers a K-8 license and only requires an elementary content test.

Research rationale

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 can be especially problematic. States need 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. In order to do so, middle school teachers must be deeply knowledgeable about every subject they will be licensed to teach, and able to pass a licensing test in every core subject to demonstrate this knowledge.[1] 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.

[1] For additional research on the importance of subject matter knowledge, see: Dee, T. S., & Cohodes, S. R. (2008). Out-of-field teachers and student achievement: Evidence from matched-pairs comparisons. Public Finance Review, 36(1), 7-32.; Chaney, B. (1995). Student outcomes and the professional preparation of eighth-grade teachers in science and mathematics. NSF/NELS: 88 Teacher Transcript Analysis. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED389530; Weglinsky, H. (2000). How teaching matters: Bringing the classroom back into discussions of teacher quality (Policy Information Center report). Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service. Retrieved from http://www.ets.org/Media/Research/pdf/PICTEAMAT.pdf ; A report published by the National Mathematics Advisory Panel (NMAP) concludes that a teacher's knowledge of math makes a difference in student achievement. National Mathematics Advisory Panel. (2008). Foundations for success: The final report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel. US Department of Education. Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/about/bdscomm/list/mathpanel/report/final-report.pdf