Middle School Teacher Preparation: Utah

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.

Meets a small part

Analysis of Utah's policies

Utah requires a secondary license (grades 6-12) for middle school teachers, candidates must complete a major (30 semester hours of credit) and endorsements are granted for all subjects in which candidates have at least a minor (16 semester hours of credit). Regrettably, the state allows middle school teachers to teach on a generalist 1-8 license, if they are in self-contained classrooms. 

All new middle school teachers in Utah are required to pass a Praxis II subject-matter test to attain licensure. However, because the state allows middle school teachers to teach on a generalist license, these candidates are only required to pass the general elementary content test. Although subscores are provided, this assessment does not adequately assess the content knowledge required of middle school teachers. Therefore, there is no assurance that all middle school teachers will have sufficient knowledge in each subject they teach.

Secondary teacher candidates teaching middle grades are required to take subject-specific assessments.

In Utah, teachers who are teaching the middle grades on a generalist 1-8 license will have passed the revised Praxis II Elementary Education: Multiple Subjects (5001) test. The reading and language arts subtest includes some of the instructional shifts toward building content knowledge and vocabulary through careful reading of informational and literary texts associated with these standards. However, although the framework now addresses complex texts, it does so only in the context of measuring text complexity and does not address how to incorporate increasingly complex texts into instruction. Further, this test is not designed to include content specific to teaching the middle grades.

English teachers who are teaching middle grades on a secondary license will have passed the Praxis II English Language Arts: Content Knowledge test, which includes some of the instructional shifts associated with the state's standards (see "Secondary Teacher Preparation" analysis and recommendations).

Preparation standards for those teaching middle grades on a secondary license require programs to prepare candidate to be able "to include literacy and quantitative learning objectives in content specific classes in alignment with the Utah Core Standards." However, these same standards do not apply to middle school teachers teaching on a generalist license.

Utah has no requirements for the preparation of middle school teachers who address struggling readers.


Recommendations for Utah

Require content testing in all core areas.
Utah 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.

Eliminate the generalist license.
Utah 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.

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 Utah's testing frameworks address informational texts, the state should ensure that all middle school teachers possess adequate knowledge of this area and 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, Utah should include literacy skills and using text to build content knowledge in history/social studies, science, technical subjects and the arts.

Support struggling readers.
Utah should articulate requirements ensuring that middle school teachers are prepared to intervene and support students who are struggling.

State response to our analysis

Utah stated that except in rare situations where 7th and 8th grade are taught in an elementary setting, 7th and 8th grade teachers are required to have the appropriate content endorsement to teach in a middle school or junior high setting and as such will have taken the same content-specific assessments as other secondary licensed teachers.

The state noted that this type of flexibility in licensure is necessary to allow for local control of instruction. Utah added that students must still meet the same state core standards regardless of educational setting and educators are accountable for that performance through educator evaluation. This ensures that only educators who are successfully teaching the core standards remain teaching in such situation.

Utah stated that while the policy is different from what NCTQ proposes, when taken as a whole, the system ensures that only teachers with the appropriate level of content knowledge work in such situations while still providing hiring flexibility to LEAs. The state added that testing for secondary subjects is limited to content-knowledge, and therefore any pedagogical component addressing cross-content literacy would be inappropriate.

In addition, Utah indicated that all state programs are required to prepare teachers to meet the Utah Effective Teaching Standards (UETS). These standards require teachers to meet the needs of all learners, including struggling readers.

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.