Middle School Teacher Preparation: Oklahoma

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 a small part of goal
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2015). Middle School Teacher Preparation: Oklahoma results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/OK-Middle-School-Teacher-Preparation-69

Analysis of Oklahoma's policies

Oklahoma requires teachers who teach a single subject in grades 5-8 to be certified at the middle or secondary level; candidates must earn a major in a content-related area. Regrettably, the state also allows middle school teachers to teach on a generalist 1-8 license, with the exception of mathematics.

All new middle school teachers in Oklahoma are also required to pass a content test to attain licensure. Those seeking the generalist license, however, are only required to pass the general content test for elementary education, which does not report subscores in each area. Therefore, there is no assurance that all middle school teachers will have sufficient knowledge in each subject they teach.

Oklahoma requires middle school English teachers who teach a single subject to pass the CEOE Middle Level English test, which requires teachers to "understand strategies for reading expository texts." This competency is followed with a list of extensive examples of content that may be covered under this competency.

The state's competencies for English teachers mention that a teacher "understands and teaches strategies appropriate to a variety of forms (genres), text organizations, and structures, including functional print and informational print." According to the competencies, "informational print" includes reference materials, telephone books, almanacs and dictionaries. However, both the testing and English competencies do not sufficiently ensure that teachers are adequately prepared for 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.

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

Regarding struggling readers, the English competencies require teachers to use "a variety of assessment strategies to evaluate student proficiencies in the language arts and to modify instruction appropriately." However, the competencies do not specifically address the ability either to identify struggling readers or provide appropriate intervention.


Recommendations for Oklahoma

Require content testing in all core areas.
Oklahoma 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.
Oklahoma 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. 
Oklahoma should encourage middle school teachers who plan to teach multiple subjects to earn two minors in two core academic areas, rather than a single major. However, the state should retain its requirement for a subject-area major for middle school candidates who intend to teach a single subject.

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, Oklahoma 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.

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, Oklahoma 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.
Oklahoma 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.

State response to our analysis

Oklahoma indicated that the state does require the passing of middle school content area exams for initial middle school licensure.  Teachers who have an elementary education certificate (1-8, except for Math which is 1-6) and wish to teach a single subject must comply with the federal NCLB guidelines requiring them to build a HOUSSE in that subject area or pass the middle level content area exam for that subject area.

The state added that the Oklahoma Full Subject Matter Competencies for Middle School educators include establishing "an environment using active participation to teach problem solving and communication skills (reading, listening, writing and speaking) as an integral part of all instruction." Oklahoma also stated that the test competencies for the Middle Level English test do address reading and reading instruction for all students including the struggling reader.

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.