The state should ensure that middle school teachers are sufficiently prepared to teach appropriate grade-level content.
South Dakota allows middle school teachers to teach on a generalist K-8 license. The state offers a middle-level endorsement (grades 5-8), which appears to only be required if the teacher is teaching in an organized junior high or middle school. Further, South Dakota only articulates that candidates must "know the subject matter they plan to teach"; it does not explicitly require a major or minor in the subject areas.
All new middle school teachers in South Dakota are also required to pass a Praxis II subject-matter test to attain licensure. However, because the state allows middle school teachers to teach on a generalist license, these candidates are only required to pass the general elementary content test, in which subscores are not provided. Therefore, there is no assurance that all middle school teachers will have sufficient knowledge in each subject they teach. Candidates who earn the middle-level endorsement are required to take subject-specific assessments.
Praxis Test Requirement www.ets.org South Dakota Administrative Rules 24:53:04:07
Require content testing in all core areas.
South Dakota 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 that its middle school content tests are meaningful, South Dakota should reevaluate its passing scores so that all tests reflect high levels of performance. For example, the passing scores for the Praxis II Middle School English Language Arts and Mathematics tests are both set just above the 9th percentile.
Eliminate the generalist license.
South Dakota 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 South Dakota who intend to teach a single subject should earn a major in that area.
South Dakota asserted that it allows middle school teachers to teach on a generalist K-8 license if they are teaching self-contained 5th and 6th grade assignments at the middle school. Grades 5-8 teachers who are teaching in departmentalized classrooms must meet the requirements to be highly qualified in the subjects to which they are assigned. This includes passing the appropriate content area Praxis exams.
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.
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.