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.
Virginia requires a middle education (grades 6-8) endorsement for middle school teachers. Candidates must earn a major in interdisciplinary studies or its equivalent.
All new middle school teachers in Virginia are also required to pass a Praxis II single-subject content test to attain licensure.
Commendably, Virginia does not offer a K-8 generalist license.
Virginia addresses some of the instructional shifts toward building content knowledge and vocabulary through careful reading of informational and literary texts associated with college- and career-readiness standards for students through its required assessment for middle school English teachers, the Praxis II Middle School English Language Arts (5047) test.
The state requires middle school teachers to take three hours of coursework in "reading in the content areas." This coursework must "impart an understanding of comprehension skills in all content areas, including a repertoire of questioning strategies, summarizing and retelling skills, and strategies in literal, interpretive, critical, and evaluative comprehension, as well as the ability to foster appreciation of a variety of literature and independent reading."
Regarding struggling readers, Virginia's middle school English content test requires that a teacher be able to group students and differentiate instruction. However the test does not specifically address the ability to either identify struggling readers or provide appropriate intervention.
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 Virginia'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.
Incorporate literacy skills as an integral part of every subject.
To ensure that middle school students are capable of accessing varied information about the world around them, Virginia should include literacy skills and using text to build content knowledge in history/social studies, science, technical subjects and the arts.
Support struggling readers.
Virginia should articulate more specific requirements ensuring that middle school teachers are prepared to intervene and support students who are struggling.
Ensure meaningful content tests.
To ensure meaningful middle school content tests, Virginia should make certain that its passing scores reflect high levels of performance.
Virginia was helpful in providing NCTQ with facts that enhanced this analysis. The state also referenced its Reading for Virginia Educators Assessment, required for early childhood, elementary and special education teachers.
differentiate middle school teacher preparation from that of elementary
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.