Middle School Teacher Preparation : Rhode
Island

2011 Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy

Goal

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

Meets in part
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Middle School Teacher Preparation : Rhode Island results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/RI-Middle-School-Teacher-Preparation--6

Analysis of Rhode Island's policies

Rhode Island requires a middle school endorsement for middle school teachers. In addition to either an elementary or secondary certificate, all middle school teachers must also have either 21 credits in the content area and pass the specific Praxis content test, or earn a major in the content area. Regrettably, Rhode Island also allows middle school teachers to teach on the elementary teaching certificate, "where grades 7 and 8 are organized on the elementary school plan."

Citation

Recommendations for Rhode Island

Prepare middle school teachers to teach middle school.
Rhode Island 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.
Rhode Island should encourage middle school teachers who plan to teach multiple subjects to earn two minors in two core academic areas. However, Rhode Island should require a subject-area major for middle school candidates who intend to teach a single subject. 

Require subject-matter testing for middle school teacher candidates.
Rhode Island 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.

State response to our analysis

Rhode Island recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. The state added that regulatory changes to certification being released for public comment will no longer include the clause allowing elementary educators to teach in grades 7 and 8 if organized on an elementary plan. This has been in place for many years to accommodate very small districts with only one school. Rhode Island noted that even these schools are already requiring grades 7 and 8 teachers to hold middle school endorsements to meet content needs. "The clause in the elementary regulations is outdated and is not reflective of state practice. We do not allow middle school teachers to teach on a generalist license."  

In addition, the state pointed out that all middle-level teachers must be highly qualified for their positions, which means all middle-level teachers must have a major or minor and pass a test in the content area. Further, middle school teachers must have at least 21 credits in each core content area and pass each test.

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.