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.
Regrettably, Nebraska allows middle school teachers to teach on a generalist K-8 license, if they are in self-contained classrooms.
The state articulates a middle grades (grades 4-9) endorsement; candidates must earn a minimum of 36 semester hours in two content areas. Teachers with secondary licenses may also teach single subjects in middle school, but they must earn a major in their intended field.
Most teacher candidates must earn a passing score on a Praxis II content test as a condition of initial licensure. However, only elementary and secondary teachers teaching the middle grades are required to pass an assessment. At this time, testing is not required for middle-grades education.
Middle school teachers on a generalist K-8 license are required to pass the Praxis II Elementary Education: Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment (5017) test, which now incorporates some of the instructional shifts in the use of text associated with college- and career-readiness standards for students (see "Elementary Teacher Preparation in Reading Instruction" analysis and recommendations).
Secondary teachers may teach single subjects in middle school (see "Secondary Teacher Preparation" analysis and recommendations), and although the state offers middle-grades endorsements, there are no specific test requirements.
Neither teacher standards nor testing frameworks in other content areas address incorporating literacy skills.
Nebraska's elementary content test also only indirectly addresses struggling readers by requiring that a teacher "knows how to design and use formative assessments to adjust instruction."
Praxis Test Requirement http://www.education.ne.gov/EducatorPrep/IHE/SkillsTesting/ContentTestScores.pdf Nebraska Department of Education Title 92 Chapter 24 http://www.education.ne.gov/Legal/webrulespdf/CLEANRule24_2013.pdf
Require content testing in all core areas.
Nebraska 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.
Nebraska 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.
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 Nebraska who intend to teach a single subject should earn a major in that area.
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, Nebraska 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 college- and career-readiness standards for students. Although the state's revised elementary content test for its generalist K-8 license now incorporates some of these instructional shifts, the requirement is problematic because this test is not designed around requisite middle school subject-matter knowledge.
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, Nebraska 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.
Nebraska 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.
Nebraska recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. Nebraska added, "We didn't believe it last year, and we still don't believe that it is 'regrettable' that our Middle Grades endorsement was designed to meet the needs of Nebraska schools." The state also noted that the state's "Guidelines Recommended for Use with Rule 24 (Endorsements)" would address some of NCTQ's concerns.
In addition, Nebraska indicated that the Middle Grades endorsement is undergoing revision. A constituency group is considering Nebraska needs, research-based information and national standards as they prepare their recommendation. According to the state, depending upon the results of their work, content-testing requirements will likely be added.
The cover of the Rule 24 document explicitly states that the guidelines "are suggestions only," and that program approval is dependent only on criteria in Rule 24 itself, not the guidelines. This is the basis for NCTQ's exclusion of the guidelines from the analysis.
differentiate middle school teacher preparation from that of elementary
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.