Middle School Teacher Preparation: Arkansas

2015 General Teacher Prep Programs 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.

Best Practice

Analysis of Arkansas's policies

Arkansas offers initial middle-grade certification (grades 4-8) in the four content areas: math, science, English and social studies. For initial licensure, candidates must choose any two of the four content areas. The state also requires three credit hours in Arkansas history. All new middle school teachers in Arkansas are required to pass a single-subject Praxis II content test to attain licensure; a general content-knowledge test is not an option.

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

Applicants seeking licensure in middle childhood must pass at least two of the state-required content assessments and earn concentrations (18 semester hours) in at least two content areas as well. 

Arkansas's teacher competencies for middle school English teachers include the instructional shifts toward building content knowledge and vocabulary through increasingly complex informational texts and careful reading of informational and literary texts associated with these new standards. The state's assessment for middle school English teachers, the Praxis II Middle School English Language Arts (5047), also addresses some of these instructional shifts.

In addition, Arkansas's competencies for middle school teachers address literacy in other content areas. Reading competencies specifically articulated for history/social studies teachers require "the ability to read informational texts in history and social studies closely and critically to analyze the key ideas and details as well as craft and structure with the purpose of integrating knowledge and ideas both within and across texts." Similar literacy skills are incorporated into the competencies for middle grades science and technical subjects.

Regarding struggling readers, Arkansas's middle school English content test requires that a teacher "knows commonly used research-based approaches to grouping and differentiated instruction to meet specific instructional objectives in English Language Arts" and "understands commonly used research-based strategies for teaching adolescent reading." Competencies for middle grades English teachers also require "knowledge of the differentiated needs of middle level readers and how to strategically address them." In addition, new rules in Arkansas require teacher preparation programs to "include at least six semester hours of instruction in reading pedagogy. Further, the instruction must include "theories and strategies for teaching reading, diagnosis of reading difficulties, [and] intervention strategies for struggling readers."


Citation

Recommendations for Arkansas

Ensure that middle school teachers are prepared to meet the instructional requirements of college- and career-readiness standards for students.
Support implementation of new state standards. 
Although Arkansas's required competencies for middle school teachers are commendable, the state is encouraged to strengthen its policy by making certain there is common understanding that the new college- and career-readiness standards require challenging students with texts of increasing complexity and may require shifts in what has been traditionally considered "developmentally appropriate."

Adequately align test with state competencies
Although Arkansas's middle school teacher competencies are extensive, the testing framework for the state's content assessment does not appear to adequately address the instructional shifts in the use of text required under the new standards. Therefore, Arkansas should be mindful that this test may not measure up to its new standards for teachers in terms of English language arts, or in terms of connecting literacy and text to the other core subject areas.


State response to our analysis

Arkansas reiterated that the reading pedagogy requirement can be found in the Rules Governing Programs for Educator Licensure.

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.