Secondary Teacher Preparation in Science:

2011 Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy


The state should ensure that science teachers know all the subject matter they are licensed to teach.

Nearly meets
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Secondary Teacher Preparation in Science: Arkansas results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from:

Analysis of Arkansas's policies

Although Arkansas does not offer a general science certification for secondary science teachers, it does have a combined physical/earth science licensure area. The state does not mandate specific major/minor requirements, but rather it articulates a set of competencies to address requisite knowledge in a particular area. Candidates are required to pass the Praxis II "Earth and Space Sciences" test and the "Physical Science" test, which combines both chemistry and physics. 

Middle school science teachers are required to select a major in mathematics/science and then must earn at least 18 credits in each of the two disciplines in their competency area. As of November 1, 2011, all new middle school teacher candidates will be required to take the Praxis II Middle School: Multiple Subjects assessment, which will report a cut score for each of the four content areas. Candidates will be allowed to re-take any section that they do not pass; however, all sections must be passed prior to licensure.


Recommendations for Arkansas

Require secondary science teachers to pass tests of content knowledge for each science discipline they intend to teach.
States that allow combination licenses across multiple science disciplines—and require only a comprehensive content test—are not ensuring that these secondary teachers possess adequate subject-specific content knowledge. Arkansas's required assessments combine both physics and chemistry and do not report separate scores for each subject. Therefore, a candidate could, for example, answer many physics questions incorrectly on the combination content test, yet still be licensed to teach physics to high school students.

State response to our analysis

Arkansas was helpful in providing NCTQ with the facts necessary for this analysis. The state wondered why its life/earth and space science certification was not included in the analysis, and it added that a secondary science teacher must pass either the life science (biology) or the physical science (chemistry and physics) content test. 

Last word

The focus of this goal is on combination licensure areas that allow teachers to teach a combination of biology, chemistry and/or physics under a single certificate. The analysis discusses Arkansas's physical/earth science certificate because it allows teachers to teach both chemistry and physics but only requires candidates to pass the Praxis II physical science assessment, which combines physics and chemistry without reporting cut scores for each subject area.

Although the state also offers certification in life/earth science, it was not included in the analysis because it requires that candidates pass the Praxis II biology test, in addition to an earth science assessment. Therefore, the testing requirement ensures that a secondary biology teacher must pass a biology content test. 

How we graded

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 chemistry or physics having passed only a general science test—and perhaps answering most of the chemistry or 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.  There are strategies that districts and states can pursue to improve the pipeline of science teachers—strategies such as UTEACH that use technology, distance learning and alternate routes into STEM fields.  

Middle school science teachers must know middle grade-level science.  

Many states require that middle school teachers pass a multiple-subject general knowledge test.  Teacher candidates need only achieve an overall passing score, meaning that  it could be possible to answer most—perhaps all, given the low cut scores in some states—science questions incorrectly and still pass.  Such tests are problematic at the elementary level, as they may mask serious weaknesses in teachers' content knowledge.  But at the middle school level the tests are even more flawed, since teachers may not even be generalists.  Science may be the only subject a middle school teacher teaches, and yet her license offers no assurance that she knows the material she is teaching.  

Research rationale

For an examination of how science teacher preparation positively impacts student achievement, see Goldhaber, D., & Brewer, D. (2000). Does teacher certification matter? High school certification status and student achievement, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 22, 129-145; Monk, D. (1994). Subject area preparation of secondary mathematics and science teachers and student achievement, Economics of Education Review, 12(2):125-145; Rothman, A., (1969). Teacher characteristics and student learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 6(4), 340-348.  

See also, NCTQ "The All-Purpose Science Teacher: An Analysis of Loopholes in State Requirements for High School Science Teachers."(2010). 

In addition, research studies have demonstrated the positive impact of teacher content knowledge on student achievement.  For example, see D. Goldhaber, "Everyone's Doing It, But What Does Teacher Testing Tell Us About Teacher Effectiveness?" Journal of Human Resources, vol. XLII no.4 (2007).  See also Harris, D., and Sass, T., "Teacher Training, Teacher Quality and Student Achievement". Teacher Quality Research (2007). Evidence can also be found in White, Presely, DeAngelis "Leveling up: Narrowing the teacher academic capital gap in Illinois," Illinois Education Research Council (2008); D. Goldhaber and D. Brewer, "Why Don't Schools and Teachers Seem to Matter? Assessing the impact of Unobservables on Educational Productivity." Journal of Human Resources (1998).