Middle School Teacher Preparation:

Delivering Well Prepared Teachers 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 and career-readiness standards affect instruction of all subject areas.

Meets goal in part
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2015). 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-69

Analysis of Massachusetts's policies

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.

Commendably, Massachusetts does not offer a K-8 generalist license.

Regrettably, Massachusetts's preparation and licensure requirements for middle school teachers do not ensure that teachers will be prepared to teach the state's college- and career-readiness standards for students.

Massachusetts requires that middle school English teachers pass an MTEL English assessment. Those choosing the humanities certification, which combines English with social studies, must earn a passing score on the MTEL Middle School Humanities test, which does not include the instructional shifts toward building content knowledge and vocabulary through increasingly complex texts and careful reading of informational and literary texts associated with the state's college- and career-readiness standards for students. Subject-matter knowledge requirements articulated by the state for these teachers only require "reading theory, research, and practice at the middle school level."

Those opting for single-subject certification must pass the MTEL English test required of secondary teachers (see "Secondary Teacher Preparation" analysis and recommendations).

Neither teacher standards nor tests in other content areas address incorporating literacy skills.

Massachusetts has no requirements for the preparation of middle school teachers who address struggling readers.


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. At present 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.

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. Either through testing frameworks or teacher standards, Massachusetts should specifically address the instructional shifts toward building content knowledge and vocabulary through increasingly complex informational texts and careful reading of informational and literary texts associated with the state's college- and career-readiness standards for students.

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, Massachusetts 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. Massachusetts should articulate 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.

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 recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis.

Research rationale

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.

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.