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.

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

Analysis of Arizona's policies

Arizona offers an endorsement in secondary general science, which is comprised of 12 semester hours of life science courses and 12 semester hours of physical science courses. Because a proficiency assessment is not offered in this subject area, the state only requires 24 semester hours of subject-related courses from an accredited institution; a content test is not required. Teachers with this license are not limited to teaching general science but rather can teach any of the topical areas, including biology, chemistry and physics. Further, although Arizona requires secondary teachers to be highly qualified in each specific subject area (e.g., biology, chemistry), this requirement does not ensure that they will have passed a content test.

There is an optional middle-grades general science endorsement for teachers who already have either an elementary or secondary certificate. Teachers holding a valid elementary or secondary teaching certificate who want to attach a middle-grades general science area must pass the AEPA "Middle Grades General Science" test. Arizona also allows middle school science teachers to teach on a generalist K-8 license (see Goal 1-E).


Recommendations for Arizona

Require secondary science teachers to pass tests of content knowledge for each science discipline they intend to teach.
States that allow general science certifications—and do not require content tests for each area—are not ensuring that these secondary teachers possess adequate subject-specific content knowledge. 

Require middle school science teachers to pass a test of content knowledge that ensures sufficient knowledge of science.
Although the state requires a specific middle grades science test for its middle-grades science endorsement, this endorsement is optional. Therefore, Arizona does not ensure that all middle school teachers possess adequate knowledge of science.

State response to our analysis

Arizona asserted that the approved area of general science only allows teachers to be appropriately certified to teach general science at the high school level. The state added that teachers must have the appropriate science content as an approved area to be appropriately certified. Arizona currently has AEPA exams for the following science content areas: biology, chemistry, earth science, middle grades general science and physics. The state also noted that it uses the term "approved area," rather than endorsement. 

Last word

NCTQ is unable to find policy that limits teachers with a general science certificate to teach only general science courses. Rather than rely on assumed common understandings regarding which courses a teacher with a general science certificate may or may not teach, Arizona should articulate a specific policy ensuring that all science teachers are required to pass a subject-specific content test for each area they plan to teach. 

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).