Middle School Teacher Preparation: Texas

2015 Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy

Goal

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

Analysis of Texas's policies

Texas requires either a generalist (grades 4-8) or a subject-specific (grades 4-8) endorsement for all middle school teachers. Candidates must earn either an academic discipline major or an interdisciplinary academic major.

Texas offers single-subject tests for grades 4-8 and allows candidates to pass a middle school generalist exam as well as combination tests (e.g., English language arts and reading/social studies 4-8). The state also requires all generalists to earn a "satisfactory level of performance" in each core subject covered by the examination.

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

Standards for middle-grades English teachers require that they "understand the importance of reading for understanding, know the components of comprehension, and teach students strategies for improving their comprehension," which includes that they "provide instruction in how to use graphics (e.g., tables, charts, maps, signs), informational texts, and technologies (e.g., the Internet) to acquire information."

Although the state's new Core Subjects 4-8 content assessment does not mention informational texts specifically, its competencies require skills related to expository texts.

Standards for middle-grades social studies and science teachers indicate that a teacher must be able to "use a variety of instructional strategies to ensure all students' reading comprehension of content-related texts, including helping students link the content of texts to their lives and connect related ideas across different texts." Texas's educator preparation curriculum must include "reading instruction, including instruction that improves students' content-area literacy." The state's newly adopted teacher standards require that "teachers promote literacy and the academic language within the discipline and make discipline-specific language accessible to all learners."

Texas addresses the needs of struggling readers in its standards for English teachers.

Citation

Recommendations for Texas

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 Texas's standards and testing standards for middle school English teachers address informational and expository texts, the state should strengthen its policy and ensure that teachers are able to challenge students with texts of increasing complexity.

Adequately align test with state competencies.
The testing framework for Texas’s new content assessment does not appear to adequately address the instructional shifts in the use of text required under the state's standards. Therefore, Texas should be mindful that this test may not measure up in terms of English language arts, or in terms of connecting literacy and text to the other core subject areas.

Ensure meaningful content tests.

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

State response to our analysis

Texas recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. The state added that reviews of the educator standards upon which the certification examinations are based are an ongoing activity. Proposed changes to the Core Subjects 4-8 examination have been discussed with the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) and were scheduled to be discussed again in October of 2015. The anticipated effective date of proposed changes will depend on the extent of the changes.

Texas added that recommendations for proposed changes to the educator standards in the classroom teacher certificate class will be made by a classroom teacher advisory committee that is scheduled to be formed by the SBEC in October of 2015. The anticipated effective date of proposed changes will depend on the recommendations from this advisory committee. Texas added that changes to the requirement that all teacher candidates complete either an academic discipline major or an interdisciplinary major would require a change to statute.

How we graded



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.