The state should ensure that middle school teachers are sufficiently prepared to teach appropriate grade-level content.
Maryland requires middle school education certification (grades 4-9) for all middle school teachers. These teachers are only required to complete a teacher preparation program; the state does not explicitly require a major or minor in these subject areas.
All new middle school teachers in Maryland are also required to pass a Praxis II single-subject content test to attain licensure.
However, the state allows elementary teachers to teach in departmentalized middle schools, if not less than 50 percent of the teaching assignment is within the elementary education grades. This is especially worrisome considering that elementary teachers in the state are only required to pass the Praxis II "Elementary Education: Instructional Practice and Applications" test, which is not even an adequate assessment of content knowledge for elementary teachers.
Commendably, Maryland does not offer a K-8 generalist license.
Ensure that all middle school teachers are prepared to teach grade-level content.
Maryland's policy allowing elementary teachers to teach in departmentalized middle schools places students at risk of having teachers who are not adequately prepared to teach core academic areas at the middle school level. This is not mitigated by the requirement that only half of such teachers' time can be spent teaching middle school students.
Ensure meaningful content tests.
To ensure meaningful middle school content tests, Maryland should make certain that its passing scores reflect high levels of performance.
Encourage middle school teachers licensed to teach multiple subjects to earn two subject-matter minors.
This would allow candidates to gain sufficient knowledge to pass state licensing tests, and it would increase schools' staffing flexibility. However, middle school candidates in Maryland who intend to teach a single subject should earn a major in that area.
Close the loophole that allows teachers to add middle grade levels to an existing license without demonstrating content knowledge.
Maryland allows teachers to add middle-level areas with either 15 credits in the content area and 15 credits in a content-related 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.
Maryland asserted that current middle school preparation programs require candidates to be certified in two areas and pass a test in both areas.
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.