The state should ensure that middle school teachers are sufficiently prepared to teach appropriate grade-level content.
North Carolina requires a middle grades certificate for all middle school teachers. The state clearly requires that candidates must complete a teacher preparation program, but it is somewhat more ambiguous regarding coursework requirements. Standards articulate that middle school teachers must "have depth in one or more specific content areas or disciplines," but it does not offer specific semester hour requirements. Secondary teachers may also teach the middle grades.
Middle school teachers in North Carolina are required to pass a single-subject Praxis II content test; a general content knowledge test is not an option. However, the state allows teachers to fulfill this testing requirement in their second year of teaching, provided they attempt to pass the assessments during their first year.
Commendably, North Carolina does not offer a K-8 generalist license.
Praxis Test Requirement www.ets.org Board of Education Policy Manual, TCP-A-003 Session Law 2013-360, Section 115C-296 http://www.ncleg.net/Sessions/2013/Bills/Senate/PDF/S402v7.pdf
Require content testing in all core areas prior to entering the classroom.
North Carolina should require subject-matter testing for all middle school teacher candidates in every core academic area they intend to teach as a condition of initial licensure. To ensure meaningful middle school content tests, the state should set its passing scores to 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 North Carolina 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.
North Carolina allows teachers with an existing license to add a teaching area with either coursework 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.
North Carolina was helpful in providing NCTQ with the facts necessary for this analysis. The state added that teacher preparation programs are required to submit program blueprints that provide more detail about requirements for candidates. These blueprints indicate that, for content knowledge, candidates must complete 24 semester hours of coursework relevant to the specialty area from a regionally accredited college or university with a grade of C (2.0) or better in each of the 24 hours or satisfactory Praxis II scores.
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.