Middle School Teacher Preparation: Tennessee

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.

Nearly meets

Analysis of Tennessee's policies

Tennessee offers middle grades certification (grades 6-8) for all middle school teachers. Certification consists of one of the following: an interdisciplinary major that includes study in English, mathematics, science and social studies; an interdisciplinary major in two disciplines from the arts and sciences; or a major in a single discipline from the arts and sciences with an area of emphasis on at least one additional discipline outside the major.

All new middle school teachers in Tennessee will be required to pass a Praxis II subject-matter content test to attain licensure. However, new legislation allows teachers to delay passage of content and pedagogy tests if they possess a bachelor's degree in a core content area.

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

Tennessee 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.

Tennessee also requires middle school teachers to pass the Praxis Teaching Reading: Elementary Education test, which, under the heading "reading comprehension strategies across text types," requires teachers to know "how to select and use a variety of informational, descriptive, and persuasive materials at appropriate reading levels to promote students' comprehension of nonfiction, including content-area texts."

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

Tennessee addresses the needs of struggling readers in its reading test. In addition, teacher preparation standards require candidates to be able to "differentiate good readers from poor readers in light of those characteristics and apply that knowledge to effective intervention strategies for all readers."

The state has also passed legislation defining dyslexia as a "specific learning disability" and requiring K-12 educators to receive training for teaching students with dyslexia "using appropriate scientific research and brain-based multisensory intervention methods and strategies."

Citation

Recommendations for Tennessee

Differentiate between single- and multiple-subject middle school teachers.
Tennessee may want to consider requiring only two minors for middle school teachers who intend to teach multiple subjects, rather than two majors, or a major and a minor.

Eliminate the test exemption.
While a degree may be generally indicative of background in a particular subject area, only a subject-matter test ensures that teachers know the specific content they will need to teach.

State response to our analysis

Tennessee stated that the new Educator Licensure Policy shifts middle-grades licensure from an interdisciplinary 4-8 to a single discipline endorsement area (6-8) in either English, mathematics, science or social studies. In addition, preparation providers are required to submit proposals for new middle-grades subject-specific licensure programs. They must align with the standards outlined in the new Educator Preparation Policy.

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.