Middle School Teacher Preparation: Washington

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.

Does not meet

Analysis of Washington's policies

Washington offers a middle grades certification to teach grades 4-9, but it does not explicitly require a major or minor in the subject areas that prospective middle school teachers plan to teach. Regrettably, the state also allows middle school teachers to teach on a generalist K-8 license. 

Candidates who plan to teach middle school on the generalist license are only required to pass the general elementary content test, in which subscores are not provided for each subject area. Therefore, there is no assurance that these middle school teachers will have sufficient knowledge in each subject they teach. Candidates for the middle-level endorsement are required to take subject-specific assessments, which include middle-level humanities, mathematics and science.

In addition, the humanities test for middle school certification combines both English language arts and reading with social studies, without requiring individual cut-scores. Although the state's code no longer provides a link to the endorsement-related assignment table, it is unclear whether Washington has strengthened its policy by no longer allowing secondary teachers to teach single subjects in middle school, such as general math, pre-algebra and algebra, without additional requisite knowledge requirements.

For middle-grades certification, Washington requires its English teachers to pass the WEST-E Middle Level Humanities test, which does not adequately address 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.

With regard to the incorporation of literacy into core content areas, Washington's standards for humanities teachers require them to "understand the function of reading, writing, and communication skills to create meaning and to share a developing awareness of history, geography, civics, and economics." In addition, standards for science teachers require that they "integrate literacy skills into the teaching of science."

Regarding struggling readers, Washington's standards for humanities teachers require them to "demonstrate understanding of interpreting assessment results to inform instruction based on assessment data, identify students' proficiencies and difficulties."


Recommendations for Washington

Require content testing in all core areas.
Washington 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.
Washington 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.
Either through testing frameworks or teacher standards, Washington should specifically address the instructional shifts toward building content knowledge and vocabulary through increasingly complex informational texts and careful reading of informational and literary texts associated with the state's college- and career-readiness standards for students.

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, Washington should also 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.
Washington should articulate more specific requirements ensuring that middle school teachers are prepared to intervene and support students who are struggling.

State response to our analysis

Washington had no comment on this goal.

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.