Secondary Content Knowledge

2017 Secondary Teacher Preparation Policy

2017 Goals for Secondary Content Knowledge

The state should ensure that secondary teachers are sufficiently prepared to teach appropriate grade-level content. This goal was reorganized in 2017.

Best practices

Indiana and Minnesota require that all secondary teacher candidates pass a single-subject test to teach any core secondary subject—both for initial licensure and to add an additional field to a secondary license. Additionally, Indiana does not offer secondary certification in general social studies or science; all teachers must be certified in a specific discipline. Minnesota does not offer a general science license, and all general social studies teachers must pass a content test for each subject in the social studies discipline.

Best practice 2

States

Meets goal 25

States

Nearly meets goal 4

States

Meets goal in part 10

States

Meets a small part of goal 1

State

Does not meet goal 9

States

Do states require secondary candidates to demonstrate sufficient knowledge of every subject they are qualified to teach?

2017
2015
Add previous year
Figure details

Yes. State requires a single-subject test for every subject a teacher is licensed to teach.: IN, MN, MO, TN

Partially. State generally requires single-subject tests; however, its policy has significant deficiencies regarding science and/or social studies.: AK, AL, AR, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, ID, IL, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MS, NC, ND, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OH, OK, PA, RI, SC, TX, UT, VA, VT, WI, WV

No. State does not require single-subject test for every subject a teacher is licensed to teach.: AZ, CA, CO, HI, IA, MT, OR, SD, WA, WY

Do states require secondary candidates to demonstrate sufficient knowledge in the endorsement area in order to earn an endorsement?

2017
2015
Add previous year
Figure details

Yes. Yes. State requires a single-subject test to add an endorsement area.: IN, MN, TN

Partially. State generally requires single-subject tests; however, its policy has significant deficiencies regarding science and/or social studies.: AL, AR, CT, DE, FL, ID, KS, KY, MA, ME, MI, ND, NE, NH, NJ, NY, OH, OK, PA, RI, SC, TX, UT, VA, VT, WA, WI, WV

No. State does not require a single-subject test to add an endorsement area.: AK, AZ, CA, CO, DC, GA, HI, IA, IL, LA, MD, MO, MS, MT, NC, NM, NV, OR, SD, WY

How we graded

3D: Secondary Content Knowledge

  • Content Tests: The state should require that all new secondary teachers pass a separately scored subject-matter test in every subject they are licensed to teach.
  • Additional Endorsements: The state should require that all secondary teachers pass a separately scored subject-matter test when adding subject-area endorsements to an existing license.
Content Tests
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 it requires all new secondary teachers to pass a separately scored licensing test in every subject they are licensed to teach. 
Additional Endorsements
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 it requires all secondary teachers to pass a separately scored content test to add subject-area endorsements to an existing license.

Research rationale

Completion of coursework provides no assurance that prospective teachers know the specific content they will teach. Secondary teachers must be experts in the subject matter they teach, and a rigorous, subject-matter specific test ensures that teacher candidates are sufficiently and appropriately knowledgeable in their content area. In fact, research suggests that a positive correlation exists between teachers' content knowledge and the academic achievement of their students.[1] Coursework is generally only indicative of background in a subject area; even a major offers no certainty of what content has been covered. A history major, for example, could have studied relatively little American history or almost exclusively American history. To assume that the major has adequately prepared the candidate to teach American history, European history, or ancient civilizations is an unwarranted leap of faith, whereas a rigorous content test could verify aspiring teachers' knowledge in each topic area.

Requirements should be just as rigorous when adding an endorsement to an existing license. Many states will allow teachers to add a content area endorsement to their license simply on the basis of having completed coursework. As described above, the completion of coursework does not offer assurance of specific content knowledge. Even states that require a content test for initial licensure should require an additional content test for adding an endorsement.


[1] Monk, D. (1994). Subject-area preparation of secondary mathematics and science teachers and student achievement. Economics of Education Review, 13(2), 125-145; 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 Research, 32(3), 505-523.; 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/p/publications/docs/NCTQ_All_Purpose_Science_Teacher.pdf; 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; For consideration for elementary teachers' need to master 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; For research on this effect specific to reading achievement: Carlisle, J. F., Correnti, R., Phelps, G., & Zeng, J. (2009). Exploration of the contribution of elementary teachers' knowledge about reading to their students' improvement in reading. Reading and Writing, 22(4), 457-486.