Middle School Teacher Preparation : Wisconsin

2011 Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy

Goal

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

Does not meet
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Middle School Teacher Preparation : Wisconsin results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/WI-Middle-School-Teacher-Preparation--6

Analysis of Wisconsin's policies

Wisconsin requires a "middle childhood through early adolescence level" license for middle school teachers. According to the state's definition, this level applies to children ages 6 through 12 or 13, which, regrettably, means it is the equivalent of a generalist 1-8 license. Candidates are required to complete a minor in a content-related area.

All new middle school teachers in Wisconsin are also required to pass a Praxis II subject-matter test to attain licensure. However, candidates are only required to pass the general middle school content test; passing scores in each subject area are not required. Therefore, there is no assurance that these middle school teachers will have sufficient knowledge in each subject they teach.

Citation

Recommendations for Wisconsin

Eliminate 1-8 generalist license.
Wisconsin 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.
Wisconsin should encourage middle school teachers who plan to teach multiple subjects to earn two minors in two core academic areas. Middle school candidates who intend to teach a single subject should earn a major in that area.

Require subject-matter testing for middle school teacher candidates.
Wisconsin 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

Wisconsin noted that it has adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for English/language arts and mathematics, and efforts are underway to provide all stakeholders with resources and professional development on implementing these standards. The state will be revising its middle childhood-early adolescence content guidelines for preparation programs based on the new CCSS and InTASC standards. Further, these new content guidelines will assist Wisconsin in reviewing its current content exam to determine if it still meets the state's needs.

Wisconsin also pointed out that up to this point, the shelf-test content exam it selected in 2001 for MC-EA candidates was not available with separate subscores. The state recognizes that some new testing options may be available for review, and it looks forward to moving ahead with this work.

Further, the state agreed that middle school teachers would benefit from completing two minors in the MC-EA licensure area. However, Wisconsin is mindful of the tremendous requirements within this license for multiple subject depth of knowledge and the time-to-degree competing forces facing its educator preparation programs. In addition, the EA-A license requires a major in a subject area and a subject-specific content exam. These candidates can teach at the middle school and high school levels and are readily employed by Wisconsin schools to teach a single subject at the middle school level. 

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.