Secondary Licensure Deficiencies

Secondary Teacher Preparation Policy

Secondary Licensure Deficiencies

The state should ensure that secondary science and social studies teachers demonstrate sufficient knowledge of all subject matter they are licensed to teach. This goal was consistent between 2017 and 2020.

Best practices

Indiana does not offer a general science or social studies license. The state does offer a physical science license, however, teachers with this license may only teach physical science courses. Also worthy of mention is Minnesota.The state does not offer a general science license. All teachers must be licensed in a specific science discipline. While the state does offer a general social studies license, all candidates must pass a content test with two separately scored subtests covering the social studies disciplines.

Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2020). Secondary Licensure Deficiencies national results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/national/Secondary-Licensure-Deficiencies-91
Best practice 2

States

Meets goal 1

State

Nearly meets goal 0

States

Meets goal in part 14

States

Meets a small part of goal 9

States

Does not meet goal 25

States

Progress on this goal since 2017

  • Improved
  • Stayed the same
  • Regressed

Do states require secondary science candidates to demonstrate adequate science subject-matter knowledge?

2020
2017
Add previous year
Figure details

Yes. State offers only single-subject science licenses and requires adequate testing.: AR, FL, IN, KS, KY, MA, MN, NY, TN, VA

Yes. State offers a general science or combination license, but it requires candidates to pass a test in each subject they may teach. : MO, MS, NJ, PA, RI, WV

No. State offers a general science or combination licenses and does not require adequate tests.: AK, AL, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, GA, HI, IA, ID, IL, LA, MD, ME, MI, MT, NC, ND, NE, NH, NM, NV, OH, OK, OR, SC, SD, TX, UT, VT, WA, WI, WY

Footnotes
AZ: Candidates can be exempt from passing the required test through one of the following methods: Has taught courses relevant to a content area or subject matter for the last two consecutive years Has either a baccalaureate degree, a master's degree or a doctorate degree in a specific subject area that is directly relevant to a content area or subject matter taught in public schools, or Demonstrates expertise through relevant work experience of at least five years in a field that is relevant to a content area or subject matter taught in public schools.
CA: Teachers with the general science license may only teach general science courses. Requires a content test or completion of an approved preparation program.
CT: Teachers with the general science license may only teach general, physical or life science courses.
GA: Georgia's science test consists of two subtests.
IL: No general science offered, candidates must earn a specific subject-area designation (e.g., biology, physics). However, teachers with a science license can teach any science course other than AP or honors classes.
MS: While not offering general science, the state does offer a physical science license. Teachers with this license cannot teach chemistry or physics courses.
NH: While not offering general science, the state does offer a physical science license without adequate testing.
NJ: A candidate who fails to earn the passing score by 5 percent or less can still meet the subject matter requirement with a GPA of at least 3.5.
NV: Teachers with a General Science license are not permitted to teach any of the topical areas beyond grade 9. The state also offers a physical science license.
OK: While not offering general science, the state does offer a physical science license without adequate testing.
OR: Passage of a subject matter test is one option for demonstrating content knowledge.
PA: Teachers with this license are not required to pass a test for each subject, however they are limited to teaching general science and introductory level courses in life science, physical science and earth and space science.
RI: Teachers with the general science license may only teach general science courses.
TN: Tennessee allows teachers to delay passage of content and pedagogy tests if they possess a bachelor's degree in a core content area.
UT: No general science license is offered and physical science license requires chemistry or physics test for those utilizing the content test option.
WA: In order to obtain a general science certification, candidates are required to have an endorsement in biology, chemistry, earth and space science, or physics.
WV: West Virginia general science teachers cannot teach single-subject classes in biology, chemistry, and/or physics.

Do states require secondary social studies candidates to demonstrate adequate social studies subject-matter knowledge?

2020
2017
Add previous year
Figure details

Yes. State offers only single-subject social studies licenses and requires adequate testing.: GA, IN, TN

Yes. State offers a general social studies or combination license, but it requires candidates to pass a test in each subject they may teach. : MN

No. State offers a general social studies license and does not require adequate testing.: AK, AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, FL, HI, IA, ID, IL, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MO, MS, MT, NC, ND, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TX, UT, VA, VT, WA, WI, WV, WY

Footnotes
AZ: In lieu of passing a content test, candidates in Arizona have three methods for meeting the subject matter requirement including National Board certification or degrees in the relevant content area.
IL: No general social science license offered, however, candidates must earn a social science endorsement in a specific content area (e.g. political science, economics) and can teach any social science courses other than AP or honors classes.
MN: The Minnesota Teacher Licensure Examinations (MTLE) Social Studies test is comprised of two subtests.
NJ: A candidate who fails to earn the passing score by 5 percent or less can still meet the subject matter requirement with a GPA of at least 3.5.
OK: Oklahoma offers combination licenses.
OR: Passage of a subject matter test is one option for demonstrating content knowledge.
TN: Tennessee allows teachers to delay passage of content and pedagogy tests if they possess a bachelor's degree in a core content area.

Updated: February 2020

How we graded

3E: Secondary Licensure Deficiencies 

  • Science Content Requirements: The state should require that all new secondary science teachers pass a separately scored subject-matter test in each science discipline they are licensed to teach, regardless of whether or not the state offers a general science or combination science certification.
  • Social Studies Content Requirements: The state should require that all new secondary social studies teachers pass a separately scored subject-matter test in each social studies discipline they are licensed to teach, regardless of whether or not the state offers a general social studies or combination social studies certification.
Science Content Requirements
One-half of the total goal score is earned based on the following:

  • One-half credit: The state will earn one-half of a point if any of the following criteria are met: 1) all secondary science teachers are required to pass a content test in each science discipline they are licensed to teach, 2) no general science or physical science licenses are offered, 3) teachers with general science licenses are only licensed to teach general science, or 4) general science is offered but there are adequate test requirements.
  • One-quarter credit: The state will earn one-quarter of a point if single-subject content tests are required generally and physical science or combination licenses are also offered.
Social Studies Content Requirements
One-half of the total goal score is earned based on the following:

  • One-half credit: The state will earn one-half of a point if any of the following criteria are met: 1) all secondary social studies teachers are required to pass a subject-matter test in each social studies discipline they are licensed to teach, 2) no general social studies licenses are offered, 3) teachers taking general social studies tests are only licensed to teach general social studies, or 4) general social studies is offered but there are adequate test requirements.

Research rationale

Specialized science teachers are not interchangeable. Based on their high school science licensure requirements, many states seem to presume that it is all the same to teach anatomy, electrical currents, and Newtonian physics. Most states allow teachers to obtain general science or combination licenses across multiple science disciplines, and, in most cases, these teachers need only pass a general knowledge science exam that does not ensure subject-specific content knowledge.[1] This means that a teacher with a background in biology could be fully certified to teach advanced physics having passed only a general science test—and perhaps answering most of the physics questions incorrectly.[2]

There is no doubt that districts appreciate the flexibility that these broad field licenses offer, especially given the very real shortage of teachers of many science disciplines. But the all-purpose science teacher not only masks but perpetuates the STEM crisis—and does so at the expense of students.[3] States need to either make sure that general science teachers are indeed prepared to teach any of the subjects covered under that license or allow only single-subject science certifications. In either case, states need to consider strategies to improve the pipeline of science teachers, including the use of technology, distance learning and alternate routes into STEM fields.

Similarly, most states offer a general social studies license at the secondary level.[4] For this certification, teachers can have a background in a wide variety of fields, ranging from history and political science to anthropology or psychology and may only be required to pass a general social studies test. Under such a license a teacher who majored in psychology could be licensed to teach secondary history having passed only a general knowledge test and answering most—and perhaps all—history questions incorrectly.


[1] Monk, D. H. (1994). Subject area preparation of secondary mathematics and science teachers and student achievement. Economics of Education Review, 13(2), 125-145.; Baumert, J. (2010). Teachers' mathematical knowledge, cognitive activation in the classroom, and student progress. American Educational Research Journal, 47(1), 133-180.; Rothman, A. I. (1969). Teacher characteristics and student learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 6(4), 340-348.; National Council on Teacher Quality. (2014). Infographic on secondary certification. Retrieved from http://www.nctq.org/dmsView/NCTQ_-_Standard_7,8_Groundwork_-_Infographic_on_Secondary_Certification; See also, National Council on Teacher Quality. (2010). The all-purpose science teacher: An analysis of loopholes in state requirements for high school science teachers. Retrieved from http://www.nctq.org/dmsView/The_All_Purpose_Science_Teacher_NCTQ_Report;
[2] National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Recommendations for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Retrieved from http://www.nctq.org/p/publications/docs/nctq_eseaReauthorization.pdf
[3] For research on the importance of elementary teachers having a strong content knowledge, see: Goldhaber, D. (2007). Everyone's doing it, but what does teacher testing tell us about teacher effectiveness? Journal of Human Resources, 42(4), 765-794.; See also Harris, D. N., & Sass, T. R. (2011). Teacher training, teacher quality and student achievement. Journal of Public Economics, 95(7), 798-812. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED509656.pdf; White, B. R., Presley, J. B., & DeAngelis, K. J. (2008). Leveling up: Narrowing the teacher academic capital gap in Illinois. Illinois Education Research Council. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED502243.pdf; Goldhaber, D. D., & Brewer, D. J. (1997). Why don't schools and teachers seem to matter? Assessing the impact of unobservables on educational productivity. Journal of Human Resources, 505-523.
[4] National Council on Teacher Quality. (2014). Infographic on secondary certification. Retrieved from http://www.nctq.org/dmsView/NCTQ_-_Standard_7,8_Groundwork_-_Infographic_on_Secondary_Certification