Middle School Content Knowledge: Tennessee

2017 Secondary Teacher Preparation 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 career-readiness standards affect instruction of all subject areas. This goal was reorganized in 2017.

Nearly meets

Analysis of Tennessee's policies

Content Test Requirements: Tennessee offers middle grades certification (grades 6-8) for all middle school teachers. All new middle school teachers in Tennessee are required to pass a Praxis II subject-matter content test to attain licensure.

However, the state allows teachers to delay passage of content and pedagogy tests if they possess a bachelor's degree in a core content area.

Academic Requirements: Middle school 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.


Recommendations for Tennessee

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.

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.

State response to our analysis

Tennessee noted that it will continue to issue the 4-8 generalist license until 9/1/18 for candidates who have already begun a generalist program. The state also provided additional clarification about Tennessee's test exemption policy, which asserts that educators who enroll in a post-baccalaureate program may be recommended for a license if their content knowledge is verified based on a bachelor's degree in the core content area.

Updated: December 2017

How we graded

3A: Middle School Content Knowledge 

  • Content Tests: The state should require that all new middle school teachers pass a separately scored subject-matter test in every core academic area for which they are licensed to teach.
Content Tests
The total goal score is earned based on the following:

  • Full credit: The state can earn full credit if it offers a middle school license and requires teachers to pass a licensing test in every core academic area in which they are licensed to teach. 
  • One-quarter credit: In some cases, a state can earn one-quarter of a credit for mitigating the negative aspects of a K-8 license, for example, requiring a single subject test to teach that subject at the middle school level.
  • 0/0 credit: The state will not earn any credit if it only offers a K-8 license and only requires an elementary content test.

Research rationale

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 can be especially problematic. States need 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. In order to do so, middle school teachers must be deeply knowledgeable about every subject they will be licensed to teach, and able to pass a licensing test in every core subject to demonstrate this knowledge.[1] 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.

[1] For additional research on the importance of subject matter knowledge, see: Dee, T. S., & Cohodes, S. R. (2008). Out-of-field teachers and student achievement: Evidence from matched-pairs comparisons. Public Finance Review, 36(1), 7-32.; Chaney, B. (1995). Student outcomes and the professional preparation of eighth-grade teachers in science and mathematics. NSF/NELS: 88 Teacher Transcript Analysis. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED389530; Weglinsky, H. (2000). How teaching matters: Bringing the classroom back into discussions of teacher quality (Policy Information Center report). Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service. Retrieved from http://www.ets.org/Media/Research/pdf/PICTEAMAT.pdf ; A report published by the National Mathematics Advisory Panel (NMAP) concludes that a teacher's knowledge of math makes a difference in student achievement. National Mathematics Advisory Panel. (2008). Foundations for success: The final report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel. US Department of Education. Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/about/bdscomm/list/mathpanel/report/final-report.pdf