The state should ensure that middle school teachers are sufficiently prepared to teach appropriate grade-level content.
Massachusetts requires a middle school certificate (grades 5-8) for all middle school teachers. Candidates must complete either a mathematics/science or an 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.
Commendably, Massachusetts does not offer a K-8 generalist license.
Test Requirement www.mtel.nesinc.com 603 CMR 7.03, -.06
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. To ensure meaningful middle school content tests, the state should set its passing scores to reflect high levels of performance.
Massachusetts 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.