School & District Management

Separate Licensing Requirements Urged for Middle Grades

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — April 24, 2002 3 min read
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A group pushing for improvement in middle-grades education is calling on states to set separate licensing requirements for middle-level teachers.

Read the policy statement posted by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform.

“Lack of specialized teacher preparation for middle-grades teachers amounts to malpractice,” asserted Ken McEwin, a professor of curriculum and instruction at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., and a member of the policy committee of the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform. “If we believe that young children need teachers with special training in early- childhood education, why would we not think young adolescents need and deserve teachers trained to teach this special age group?”

While there are credentials specific to teaching elementary and high school students, the Boston-based group notes in the policy statement it put forth this month, most states do not require any special training for teachers in the middle grades.

Among the 43 states that offer a middle-level specialty, just 21 require teachers to earn such a license or endorsement in order to teach middle school.

“Those trained at the elementary level don’t have the deep content knowledge necessary for teaching in the middle grades, and often those [with high school certification] don’t understand the unique and special needs of students in a key life transition,” said Nancy Ames, a member of the forum and the director of family, school, and community programs at the Education Development Center in Boston.

The years leading up to adolescence—typically between the 5th and 9th grades—have been identified by many researchers as particularly challenging for both students and teachers.

Over the past decade, critics of the middle school movement have suggested that the push for “developmentally appropriate” curricula and instruction has led to shallow, fragmented, and unchallenging academic content.

Data suggest student achievement in the middle grades is lackluster at best. Some two-thirds of 8th graders are not proficient in reading, and three-quarters are not proficient in mathematics, according to the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress.

An effort is under way to refocus the middle school movement—in its fourth decade—on using rigorous academic standards as the framework for an engaging, age-appropriate curriculum. (“Middle Grades: Feeling the Squeeze,” Oct. 4, 2000.)

The national forum and other groups have argued that improving the education of middle school students will hinge on teacher preparation.

Not only do the qualifications of middle-level teachers need beefing up, but the whole system of licensure and certification also needs to be revisited and restructured “to be driven by stage of development of the child, and not just by the subject matter,” said Jean Miller, the director of the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium of the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Easing the Transition

Meanwhile, two organizations are urging administrators, teachers, and parents to recognize and address the difficult transition many students face as they move from elementary to middle school. The National Association of Elementary School Principals and the National Middle School Association issued a call last month for educators, counselors, and parents to help preteenagers adjust to their new school surroundings and academic expectations.

Educators, the groups said, should draw up transition plans and collaborate with their colleagues at each other’s level.

“The transition from elementary to middle school can be one of the most exciting times in a student’s life. Yet, many students are apprehensive, and some parents fearful about the move,” NMSA President Sue Swaim said in announcing the plan. “Educators owe it to students to make this transition as smooth as possible so they remain engaged in learning.”

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A version of this article appeared in the April 24, 2002 edition of Education Week as Separate Licensing Requirements Urged for Middle Grades

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