Secondary Content Knowledge: Arizona

Secondary Teacher Preparation Policy


The state should ensure that secondary teachers demonstrate sufficient knowledge appropriate grade-level content. This goal was consistent between 2017 and 2020.

Does not meet goal
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2020). Secondary Content Knowledge: Arizona results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from:

Analysis of Arizona's policies

Content Test Requirements: Arizona offers single-subject secondary licenses to teach grades 6-12. Unfortunately, the state allows candidates pursuing the following options to meet the state's subject-knowledge proficiency requirements:

  • National Board Certification;
  • "Verification of experience teaching courses relevant to a content matter or subject area for the past two consecutive years, and a total of three years at one or more accredited postsecondary institutions."
  • Minimum of five years of work experience "relevant to a subject area of certification;"
  • Three years of full-time teaching experience "in any state, including Arizona, in the subject area;" or
  • A bachelor's degree or higher in a "relevant subject area."

Additionally, candidate are also be exempt from passing single subject content tests if they can demonstrate any one of the following in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields:
  • 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.
Endorsements: It is unclear whether a content test is required to add an additional subject matter endorsement to an existing secondary license.

Secondary Licensure Deficiencies: Unfortunately, Arizona allows both general science and general social studies licenses without requiring subject-matter testing for each subject area within these disciplines. Because secondary content testing loopholes are scored in Secondary Licensure Deficiencies, it is not considered as part of the score for the Secondary Content Knowledge goal.


Recommendations for Arizona

Require content testing in all core areas for secondary teacher candidates.
Arizona should require subject-matter testing for all secondary teacher candidates in every core academic area they intend to teach as a condition of initial licensure. To ensure meaningful secondary content tests, the state should set its passing scores to reflect high levels of performance. The state's  policy allows teacher candidates to demonstrate content knowledge in ways that do not include the passage of a single-subject content test. Relevant upper-level coursework lays the foundation for requisite content knowledge, but to ensure that teacher candidates possess sufficient subject-matter knowledge for the secondary classroom, Arizona should require all teacher candidates to pass a single-subject test.

Require subject-matter testing when adding subject-area endorsements. Arizona should require passing scores on subject-specific content tests, regardless of other coursework or degree requirements, for teachers who are licensed in core secondary subjects and wish to add another subject area, or endorsement, to their licenses.

State response to our analysis

Arizona was helpful in providing NCTQ with facts that enhanced this analysis.

Updated: February 2020

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; National Council on Teacher Quality. (2014). Infographic on secondary certification. Retrieved from,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; 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.