Middle School Teacher Preparation: Minnesota

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 Minnesota's policies

Although Minnesota's elementary license is typically valid for grades K-6, teacher candidates may teach grades 7 and 8 if they are in self-contained classrooms. Teachers with secondary certificates may teach grades 7 and 8 in those subjects for which valid licensure is held. 

Minnesota also offers the following middle-level endorsements to teach grades 5-8 for: communication arts and literature, mathematics, social studies and general science. Candidates must complete the equivalent of a minor in each subject area of licensure. 

All new teachers in Minnesota are also required to pass the Minnesota subject-matter test to attain licensure. However, only secondary and middle-level candidates are required to pass single-subject content tests to attain licensure. Those seeking the elementary license are only required to pass the general content test for elementary education, in which subscores are not provided; therefore, there is no assurance that these middle school teachers will have sufficient knowledge about each subject they teach.

The MTLE Middle Level Communication Arts/Literature assessment includes 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.

MTLE middle school tests in other content areas address literacy skills. The Middle Level Social Studies test requires teachers to "understand the content and methods for developing students' content-area reading skills to support their reading and learning in the social studies." Similar requirements are also outlined in the state's science assessment. 

Regarding struggling readers, the Middle Level Communication Arts/Literature assessment requires the following:

  • Ability to differentiate reading instruction and materials selection to meet the needs of students at various reading proficiency levels and with various linguistic and cultural backgrounds
  • Ability to scaffold reading tasks for students who experience comprehension difficulties.
In addition, Minnesota's teacher preparation standards require "Comprehensive, scientifically based reading instruction [that] also includes and integrates instructional strategies for continuously assessing, evaluating, and communicating the student's reading progress and needs in order to design and implement ongoing interventions so that students of all ages and proficiency levels can read and comprehend text, write, and apply higher level thinking skills."


Citation

Recommendations for Minnesota

Require content testing in all core areas.
Minnesota 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. To ensure meaningful middle school content tests, the state should set its passing scores to reflect high levels of performance.

Prepare middle school teachers to teach middle school. 
Minnesota 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. Minnesota should 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. 
Minnesota 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.

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 Minnesota's testing framework is commendable, the state should strengthen its policy and ensure that teachers are able to challenge students with texts of increasing complexity.


State response to our analysis

Minnesota was helpful in providing NCTQ with facts that enhanced this analysis.

Minnesota also stated that subscores on the elementary content exam are available to determine subject-area performance of a K-6 licensed teacher who may be teaching in a self-contained classroom. According to the state, a very small percentage of classrooms exist within the self-contained structure today meaning that the vast majority of middle-level teachers hold middle-level licensure specific to their content area with middle-level specific pedagogy training.

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.