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.
Science Endorsement Requirements:
Secondary science teachers in Alaska have the option of an endorsement in general science. The state requires passage of the Praxis General Science content test. Teachers with this license are not limited to teaching general science but rather can teach any of the topical areas.
Alaska also offers a physical science endorsement. Candidates can take the Praxis chemistry, physics, or general science test.
Social Studies Endorsement Requirements: Alaska requires secondary social studies teachers to pass the Praxis Social Studies: Content Knowledge (5081) or Social Studies: Content and Interpretation (5089) content test. Teachers with this license are not limited to teaching general social studies but rather can teach any of the topical areas.
Provisional and Emergency Licensure: Because provisional and emergency licensure requirements are scored in Provisional and Emergency Licensure, only the test requirements for the state's initial license are considered as part of this goal.
Require secondary teachers with umbrella certifications to pass a content test for each discipline they are licensed to teach.
By allowing general social studies and general science certifications—and only requiring general knowledge exams for each—Alaska is not ensuring that these secondary teachers possess adequate subject-specific content knowledge. The state's required general social studies assessment combines all subject areas (e.g., history, geography, economics), and its required general science assessment combines subject areas that include biology, chemistry and physics. Neither assessment reports separate scores for each area. Therefore, candidates could answer many—perhaps all—chemistry questions, for example, incorrectly, yet still be licensed to teach chemistry to high school students. The state's physical science requirements allow passage of either a chemistry or a physics test, which does not ensure that these secondary teachers possess adequate subject-specific content knowledge to teach physical science.
Alaska recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis.
3E: Secondary Licensure Requirements
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. 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.
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. 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. 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.