Middle School Teacher Preparation: Maryland

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 in part

Analysis of Maryland's policies

Maryland requires middle school education certification (grades 4-9) for all middle school teachers. These teachers are only required to complete a teacher preparation program; the state does not explicitly require a major or minor in these subject areas.

All new middle school teachers in Maryland are also required to pass a Praxis II single-subject content test to attain licensure. 

However, the state allows elementary teachers to teach in departmentalized middle schools, if not less than 50 percent of the teaching assignment is within the elementary education grades. This is especially worrisome considering that elementary teachers in the state are only required to pass the Praxis II Elementary Education: Instructional Practice and Applications test, which is not even an adequate assessment of content knowledge for elementary teachers.

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

Maryland addresses some of the instructional shifts toward building content knowledge and vocabulary through careful reading of informational and literary texts associated with the state's 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.

Neither teacher standards nor testing frameworks in other content areas address incorporating literacy skills.

Regarding struggling readers, Maryland's middle school English content test requires that a teacher be able to group students and differentiate instruction. However, it does not specifically address the ability either to identify struggling readers or provide appropriate intervention.





Citation

Recommendations for Maryland

Ensure that all middle school teachers are prepared to teach grade-level content.
Maryland's policy allowing elementary teachers to teach in departmentalized middle schools places students at risk of having teachers who are not adequately prepared to teach core academic areas at the middle school level.  This is not mitigated by the requirement that only half of such teachers' time can be spent teaching middle school students. 

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 Maryland'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, Maryland should also—either through testing frameworks or teacher standards—include literacy skills and using text to build content knowledge in history/social studies, science, technical subjects and the arts.

Support struggling readers. Maryland should articulate more specific requirements ensuring that middle school teachers are prepared to intervene and support students who are struggling. While college- and career-readiness standards will increase the need for all middle school teachers to be able to help struggling readers to comprehend grade-level material, training for English language arts teachers in particular must emphasize identification and remediation of reading deficiencies.

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

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 Maryland who intend to teach a single subject should earn a major in that area.

Close the loophole that allows teachers to add middle-grade levels to an existing license without demonstrating content knowledge.
Maryland allows teachers to add middle-level areas with either 15 credits in the content area and 15 credits in a content-related area, or a passing score on a content test. The state is urged to require that all teachers who add the middle-grade levels to their certificates pass a rigorous subject-matter test to ensure content knowledge of all subject areas before they are allowed in the classroom.



State response to our analysis

Maryland recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. The state also noted that in addition to the work already in progress regarding reading coursework, as educator preparation programs realign their own programs to the Maryland's College- and Career-Readiness Standards (MCCRS), they are able to, and are expected to, utilize the literacy component already embedded in each content area of the MCCRS.

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.