The state should ensure that middle school teachers are sufficiently prepared to teach appropriate grade-level content.
West Virginia requires a middle-level endorsement for middle school teachers. Candidates completing two middle-level programs must complete the minimum of a subject-area minor (15 semester hours) in each subject, which would result in candidates earning two minors. A middle-level endorsement may also be added to another general education specialization such as K-6, an additional 5-9 or 5-adult program. Elementary teacher candidates are not required to earn the equivalent of a major or minor; therefore, this route potentially results in just one minor for the middle-level candidate.
All new middle school teachers are also required to pass a Praxis II single-subject content test to attain licensure.
Commendably, West Virginia does not offer a K-8 generalist license.
Ensure meaningful content tests.
To ensure that its middle school content tests are meaningful, West Virginia should reevaluate its passing scores so that all tests reflect high levels of performance. For example, the passing score for the Praxis II Middle School English Language Arts test is set just below the 7th percentile.
Strengthen middle school teachers' subject-matter preparation.
West Virginia should encourage middle school teachers who plan to teach multiple subjects to earn two minors in two core academic areas, regardless of the route they take to middle-level licensure. Middle school candidates who intend to teach a single subject should earn a major in that area. In addition, the state is urged to rethink its five-adult general education specialization, as content and pedagogy preparation for grade 5 teachers would most certainly be different from those teaching the adult population.
West Virginia recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. The state added that it is exploring the recommendations via multiple state department and state board stakeholder groups and partnerships with external organizations.
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.