Middle School Teacher Preparation : Oregon

2011 Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy


The state should ensure that middle school teachers are sufficiently prepared to teach appropriate grade-level content.

Does not meet
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Middle School Teacher Preparation : Oregon results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/OR-Middle-School-Teacher-Preparation--6

Analysis of Oregon's policies

Oregon offers middle-level endorsements (grades 5-9) for middle school teachers. Candidates must demonstrate mastery of one subject matter or specialty area by doing one or more of the following:

  • Completing a major;
  • Passing the subject matter test required for initial licensure;
  • Passing an optional subject matter test; or
  • Presenting evidence of specialized education.
Teachers with secondary certificates may teach single subjects in middle school. Those candidates must document "in-depth knowledge" of one subject matter by passing the state's content test. Regrettably, Oregon also allows middle school teachers to teach on a generalist 3-8 license.

In Oregon, all new middle school teachers are required to pass the ORELA Multiple Subject Examination, which consists of two subtests. The first subtest covers language arts, social science and the arts, and the second subtest covers mathematics, science, health and physical education. This is the same test required of elementary teachers; therefore, there is no assurance that these middle school teachers will have appropriate-level knowledge in each subject they teach. Also, because subjects are combined in the subtests, it is possible to answer many questions incorrectly regarding a certain subject area and still pass the test.

Unfortunately, the state allows "alternative assessment," in which candidates who have twice failed the content test can petition for a waiver of the subject-matter requirement.


Recommendations for Oregon

Prepare middle school teachers to teach middle school.
Oregon 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. Even though Oregon has limited the grade level band on its license to grades 3-8, that still combines clearly elementary subject-matter with middle school level. 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.
Oregon should encourage middle school teachers who plan to teach multiple subjects to earn two minors in two core academic areas. Middle school candidates who intend to teach a single subject should earn a major in that area.

Require subject-matter testing for middle school teacher candidates.
Oregon 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. The state should also reconsider its waiver for subject-matter testing.

State response to our analysis

Oregon noted that only three of 1,903 newly licensed applicants were awarded alternative assessment for multiple subjects in 2010-2011.  Oregon also asserted that the ORELA multiple-subjects K-8 test is based on the state-adopted K-8 curriculum standards, not the K-6 curriculum standards. Many of Oregon's rural schools are configured as K-8 self-contained classrooms, and K-8 schools performed better on NCLB standards than middle schools. 

Last word

NCTQ is certainly not advocating against K-8 schools and can see why such configurations are particularly advantageous for rural areas. But middle school-level students in a K-8 school still need teachers who are well prepared to teach middle school-level subject matter, and this may be compromised by the 3-8 license.    

How we graded

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.  

Research rationale

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. Foundation 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 Dee and Chodes, "Out-of-Field Teaching and Student Achievement; Evidence from Matched-Pairs Comparisons." Public Finance Review (2008); as B. Chaney, "Student outcomes and the professional preparation of 8th grade teachers," in NSF/NELS 88: Teacher transcript analysis (Rockville, MD: Westat, 1995); 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 80, No. 2 (1998): 134-138.