Middle School Teacher Preparation:

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

Analysis of Pennsylvania's policies

Pennsylvania offers middle school candidates two design options. The first option is the completion of one concentration (30 credit hours) in either English language arts and reading, math, science or social studies. Candidates must then complete 12 credit hours in each of the remaining three areas. The second option is the completion of a concentration in two content areas. The state recommends a minimum of 21 credits in each content-area concentration, with 12 credits in each of the two remaining content areas.
All new middle school teachers in Pennsylvania are also required to pass a Praxis II single-subject content test to attain licensure. 

Commendably, Pennsylvania does not offer a K-8 generalist license.

Pennsylvania addresses some of the instructional shifts toward building content knowledge and vocabulary through careful reading of informational and literary texts associated with the state's college- and career-readiness standards for students through its required assessment for middle school English teachers, the Praxis II Pennsylvania Grades 4-8 Subject Concentration: English Language Arts test.

Regarding literacy in other content areas, Pennsylvania's 4-8 Program Guidelines articulate that "courses and related candidate experiences must describe clearly how the content knowledge and skills development described [within] is embedded in the proposed program." Outlined within this required skill set is "literacy in the content areas," which requires that "to ensure that middle level teachers have the knowledge and skills to promote this development, the program must include courses with explicit links between literacy and each of the main content areas."

The state also outlines "literacy in the middle level content areas: mathematics, science and social studies." Science content "must focus on the integration of learning science with reading and writing, use of texts, and graphical representations." Social studies content "must address the five Carnegie elements, the role of technology in teaching and learning for literacy in the social sciences, and what the International Reading Association calls 'an integrated system of reading, discussion, and writing about literary and informational text.'"

Pennsylvania's candidate competencies address the needs of struggling readers. Teachers must be able to "recognize students having difficulty in reading...[and] design and test the effectiveness of appropriate interventions."


Recommendations for Pennsylvania

Ensure meaningful content tests. 
To ensure meaningful middle school content tests, Pennsylvania should make certain its passing scores reflect high levels of performance.

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. Although Pennsylvania's English language arts content test for middle school teachers addresses informational texts, the state should strengthen its policy and ensure that teachers are able to challenge students with texts of increasing complexity.

State response to our analysis

Pennsylvania recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis.

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.