Middle School Teacher Preparation: Missouri

2015 Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy


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.

Nearly meets

Analysis of Missouri's policies

Missouri requires middle school certification (grades 5-9) for all middle school teachers. Candidates must earn a minimum of 24 semester hours in one content area.

All new middle school teachers are required to pass a single-subject Missouri Educator Gateway Assessments (MEGA) content test to attain licensure; a general content knowledge test is not an option.

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

Missouri 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 MEGA Middle School Education: English assessment.

The MEGA frameworks also mention literacy in other subject tests. The social studies multicontent test requires the demonstration of historical, economic, geographic, political science, psychological, sociological and anthropological literacy. Also, the science tests require teachers to "understand crosscutting concepts in the sciences and engineering." This statement is followed by this example: Apply literacy skills to the interpretation, synthesis and analysis of information from scientific and technical sources (e.g., explaining central ideas, interpreting domain-specific terminology, recognizing how texts structure information into categories and hierarchies).

Missouri's preparation standards require middle school teachers to complete six semester hours in secondary literacy, which must be "specific to teaching reading and writing in the content area for which certification is sought, and to include instructional interventions for students with reading deficits."


Recommendations for Missouri

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 Missouri is on the right track with its framework for the English language arts middle school content test, which addresses knowledge of informational texts, the in-depth coverage of the topic is presented as example. Therefore, the extent to which this information is required is unclear. Missouri is encouraged to make certain that the framework captures the major instructional shifts of college- and career-readiness standards, thereby ensuring that all middle school English teacher candidates have the ability to adequately incorporate complex informational text into classroom instruction.

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, Missouri should strengthen its policy and more specifically include literacy skills and using text to build content knowledge in history/social studies, science, technical subjects and the arts.

Support struggling readers. 
Missouri should articulate requirements ensuring that middle school teachers are prepared to identify 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, Missouri 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 Missouri 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.
Missouri allows teachers to add areas of certification with either coursework 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

Missouri recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis.

Missouri added that teachers with existing licenses must pass the appropriate middle school content assessment. The state also pointed out that its Model Standards and Quality Indicators include competencies in literacy. According to the state, most of their middle-education programs understand the importance of this for marketability and require candidates to become certificated in two content areas.

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.