Middle School Teacher Preparation :

2011 Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy


The state should ensure that middle school teachers are sufficiently prepared to teach appropriate grade-level content.

Meets in part
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Middle School Teacher Preparation : Massachusetts results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/MA-Middle-School-Teacher-Preparation--6

Analysis of Massachusetts's policies

Massachusetts requires a middle school certificate (grades 5-8) for all middle school teachers. Candidates must either complete a mathematics/science or English/history program of study consisting of 36 semester hours. This does not preclude the possibility of obtaining a single-subject license in any of these subjects for grades 5-8.

All new middle school teachers in Massachusetts are also 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, they are only used to provide insight into the candidate's strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, middle school teachers may answer many questions on one subject incorrectly and still pass the test.


Recommendations for Massachusetts

Refine middle school subject-matter preparation policy.
Although Massachusetts is commended for not allowing middle school teachers to teach on a K-8 generalist license, it should strengthen middle school teachers' subject-matter preparation. 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. 

Enhance subject-matter testing requirements for middle school teacher candidates.
Massachusetts should require passing scores on its subject-matter test for all middle school teacher candidates in every core academic area they intend to teach as a condition of initial licensure.

State response to our analysis

Massachusetts was helpful in providing NCTQ with facts that enhanced this analysis. The state questioned a theory of action with respect to educator preparation that specifies courses rather than the content to be mastered in its educator approval regulations. It, therefore, asserted that the first recommendation is not consistent with the state's theory of action, which provides clear statements and guidelines for the subject-matter knowledge needed for licensure but leaves to preparing institutions the task of translating these knowledge and skill requirements into a coherent program of preparation. Massachusetts also noted that in 2012-2013, it will comprehensively revise its licensure requirements, moving toward a performance-based system of licensure and program approval.   

Last word

NCTQ agrees that clear guidelines for the knowledge and skills that teachers must have, paired with a rigorous assessment, would be a sound framework for teacher preparation. In this particular case, the recommendation about two minors for multi-subject middle school teachers is to ensure that preparation programs have such teachers on a path to being highly qualified in every subject they are licensed to teach.   

How we graded

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.  

Research rationale

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. Foundation 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 Dee and Chodes, "Out-of-Field Teaching and Student Achievement; Evidence from Matched-Pairs Comparisons." Public Finance Review (2008); as B. Chaney, "Student outcomes and the professional preparation of 8th grade teachers," in NSF/NELS 88: Teacher transcript analysis (Rockville, MD: Westat, 1995); 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 80, No. 2 (1998): 134-138.