Secondary Teacher Preparation: Arizona

2013 Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy

Goal

The state should ensure that secondary teachers are sufficiently prepared to teach appropriate grade-level content.

Does not meet
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2013). Secondary Teacher Preparation: Arizona results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/AZ-Secondary-Teacher-Preparation-20

Analysis of Arizona's policies

Although Arizona requires subject-matter testing for its secondary teachers, the state undermines this policy by allowing an exemption for candidates with a master's degree or higher in the subject area. 

Further, secondary social studies teachers in Arizona have the option of a general social studies teaching field license. Candidates are required to pass the NES Social Science test. Teachers with this license are not limited to teaching general social studies but rather can teach all core academic social studies classes. 

In addition, candidates applying for a secondary certificate are exempted from subject-matter testing if they have work experience in science, technology, engineering or math and a postsecondary degree or 24 credit hours of relevant coursework in the subject they intend to teach.  

Secondary teachers in Arizona may add approved areas to their licenses as outlined above. 

Beginning in January 2014, social studies may no longer be added to secondary certificates. New applicants must choose a specific area under the social studies umbrella: economics, history, geography or political science. However, the state does not articulate whether these candidates will have to pass individual content tests in these specific area. Currently, tests in these areas are not offered. 

Citation

Recommendations for Arizona

Require subject-matter testing for secondary teacher candidates.

As a condition of licensure, Arizona should require its secondary teacher candidates to pass a content test in each subject area they plan to teach to ensure that they possess adequate subject-matter knowledge and are prepared to teach grade-level content. While a degree—even an advanced degree—may be generally indicative of background in a particular subject area, only a subject-matter test ensures that teachers know the specific content they will need to teach. Arizona's intention to ease the path to licensure for those with STEM work experience is a good idea, but passing a content test should be the bottom line, not coursework requirements. 

Require secondary social studies teachers to pass a content test for each discipline they are licensed to teach.
By allowing a general social studies certification—and only requiring a general knowledge social studies exam—Arizona is not ensuring that its secondary teachers possess adequate subject-specific content knowledge. The state's required assessment combines all subject areas (e.g., history, geography, economics) and does not report separate scores for each subject area.

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 noted that it offers and requires exams for economics, political science/American government, geography and history. 

How we graded

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 only a rigorous test ensures that teacher candidates are sufficiently and appropriately knowledgeable in their content area. 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. 

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.  Some states require a content test for initial licensure but not for adding an endorsement, even if the endorsement is in a completely unrelated subject. 

Is a social studies teacher prepared to teach history?

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 are usually only 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.

Secondary Teacher Preparation: Supporting Research

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, Volume 42, No. 4, Fall 2007, pp. 765-794.  See also D. Harris and T. Sass, "Teacher Training,Teacher Quality, and Student Achievement". Calder Institute, March 2007, Working Paper 3. Evidence can also be found in B. White, J. Presley, and K. DeAngelis "Leveling Up: Narrowing the Teacher Academic Capital Gap in Illinois", Illinois Education Research Council, Policy Research Report: IERC 2008-1, 44 p.; D. Goldhaber and D. Brewer, "Does Teacher Certification Matter? High School Teacher Certification Status and Student Achievement." Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Volume 22, No. 2, June 20, 2000, pp. 129-145; and 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, Volume 32, No. 3, Summer 1997, pp. 505-523.

J. Carlisle, R. Correnti, G. Phelps, and J. Zeng, "Exploration of the contribution of teachers' knowledge about reading to their students' improvement in reading." Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Volume 22, No. 4, April 2009, pp. 457-486, includes evidence specifically related to the importance of secondary social studies knowledge.

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, Volume 42, No. 4, Fall 2007, pp. 765-794.  Evidence can also be found in White, Presely, DeAngelis, "Leveling Up: Narrowing the Teacher Academic Capital Gap in Illinois", Illinois Education Research Council, Policy Research Report: IERC 2008-1, 44 p.; D. Goldhaber and D. Brewer, "Does Teacher Certification Matter? High School Teacher Certification Status and Student Achievement." Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Volume 22, No. 2, June 20, 2000, pp. 129-145; and 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, Volume 32, No. 3, Summer 1997, pp. 505-523. See also D. Harris and T. Sass, "Teacher Training, Teacher Quality, and Student Achievement". Calder Institute, March 2007, Working Paper 3.