Middle School Teacher Preparation: Wisconsin

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.

Meets in part

Analysis of Wisconsin's policies

Wisconsin requires a "middle childhood through early adolescence level" license for middle school teachers. According to the state's definition, this level applies to children ages 6 through 12 or 13, making it the equivalent of a generalist 1-8 license. Candidates are required to complete a minor in a content-related area.

All new middle school teachers in Wisconsin are only required to pass the Praxis II Middle School: Content Knowledge (5146) test; passing scores in each subject area are not required. Therefore, there is no assurance that these middle school teachers will have sufficient knowledge in each subject they teach. Middle school candidates are also required to pass the Foundations of Reading test.

Wisconsin's content test for its "middle childhood through early adolescence level" license (1-8) is the Praxis II Middle School: Content Knowledge (5146) test, which does not 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 the state's college- and career-readiness standards for students. In addition, the Foundations of Reading assessment requires teachers to "understand how to apply reading comprehension skills and strategies to informational/expository texts." The framework then offers an extensive list of examples for achieving this competency.

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

Regarding struggling readers, the Foundations of Reading test requires the following:

  • Understand formal and informal methods for assessing reading development—for example, assessment of the reading development of individual students (e.g., struggling readers)
  • Understand multiple approaches to reading instruction—for example, awareness of strategies and resources for supporting individual students (e.g., struggling readers).


Citation

Recommendations for Wisconsin

Eliminate the generalist license.
Wisconsin 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. These teachers are less likely to be adequately prepared to teach core academic areas at the middle school level because their preparation requirements are not specific to the middle or secondary levels, and they need not pass a subject-matter test in each subject they teach. Adopting middle school teacher preparation policies for all such teachers will help ensure that students in grades 7 and 8 have teachers who are appropriately prepared to teach grade-level content, which is different and more advanced than what elementary teachers teach.

Require content testing in all core areas.

Wisconsin 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.

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 Wisconsin is on the right track with its requirement of the Foundations of Reading test, which addresses knowledge of informational texts, the in-depth coverage of the topic is presented as example. Wisconsin is encouraged to make certain that its framework captures the major instructional shifts of college- and career-readiness standards, thereby ensuring that all middle school 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, Wisconsin should also include literacy skills and using text to build content knowledge in history/social studies, science, technical subjects and the arts.




State response to our analysis

Wisconsin recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis.  Wisconsin added that it is working to complete content guidelines (preparation program standards) for Early Childhood, Early Childhood/Middle Childhood, and Middle Childhood/Early Adult licensure in relation to mathematics and English Language Arts competencies. Once this is complete, the state will be able to review content test selection against the competencies and determine the next steps.   

Wisconsin also stated that educator preparation programs must incorporate the model academic standards. Wisconsin indicated that the state has worked to ensure that all academic areas are integrating disciplinary literacy during the preparation program, as disciplinary literacy is within the model academic standards in Wisconsin.



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.