The state should ensure that middle school teachers are sufficiently prepared to teach appropriate grade-level content.
North Dakota offers middle-level certification (grades 5-8) for middle school teachers; candidates must earn a "middle level major," which includes 24 semester hours of content coursework in one content area. Teachers with secondary certificates are allowed to teach single subjects in middle school. Those candidates, too, are required to earn content-specific majors. Regrettably, the state also allows middle school teachers to teach on a generalist 1-8 license.
All new middle school teachers in North Dakota are also required to pass a Praxis II subject-matter test to attain licensure. However, because the state allows middle school teachers to teach on a generalist 1-8 license, these candidates are only required to pass the general content test for elementary education, in which subscores are not provided. Therefore, there is no assurance that all middle school teachers will have sufficient knowledge in each subject they teach.
North Dakota Administrative Code 67.1-02-02-02 North Dakota Century Code 15.1-18-07
Require content testing in all core areas.
North Dakota 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.
Eliminate the generalist license.
North Dakota should not allow middle school teachers to teach on a generalist license that does not differentiate between the preparation of middle school teachers and that of elementary teachers. These teachers are less likely to be adequately prepared to teach core academic areas at the middle school level because their preparation requirements are not specific to the middle or secondary levels and they need not pass a subject-matter test in each subject they teach. Adopting middle school teacher preparation policies for all such teachers will help ensure that students in grades 7 and 8 have teachers who are appropriately prepared to teach grade-level content, which is different and more advanced than what elementary teachers teach.
Strengthen middle school teachers' subject-matter preparation.
North Dakota should also encourage middle school teachers who plan to teach multiple subjects to earn two minors in two core academic areas, rather than a single major. Further, although North Dakota requires middle school candidates who intend to teach a single subject to earn a major in that area, its requirement of only 24 credit hours falls short of the standard definition of a subject area major.
North Dakota 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.