Secondary Teacher Preparation in Science and
Social Studies: Arizona

Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy


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

Nearly meets goal
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2015). Secondary Teacher Preparation in Science and Social Studies: Arizona results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from:

Analysis of Arizona's policies

Although Arizona requires that its secondary teacher candidates pass a content test to teach any core secondary subjects, the state permits a significant loophole to this important policy by allowing a test exemption for the general science certification.

While Arizona offers a secondary certification in general science, the state articulates that teachers with this certification are only allowed to teach general science, integrated science and thinking sciences.

To obtain a secondary certification in general science, candidates are required to pass the NES General Science test. 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.  

Commendably, Arizona no longer offers secondary certification in general social studies. New applicants must pass an AEPA or NES test in the applicable subject area under the social studies umbrella: economics, history, geography or political science.


Recommendations for Arizona

Require secondary science teachers to pass a content test for each discipline they are licensed to teach.
Arizona should reconsider its testing exemption for candidates with STEM work experience, for content assessments are the only way to ensure that teachers possess adequate knowledge of the specific subject matter they will be required to teach. The state's intention to ease the path to licensure for those with STEM work experience is a good idea; however, passing a content test should be the bottom line, not coursework requirements. 

State response to our analysis

Arizona indicated that there is no exemption for general science. According to the state, general science, thinking science, or integrated science are all course names for a generalized science course typically offered to freshman as a prerequisite for biology, chemistry and physics. All candidates teaching this course must pass the secondary general science exam.

Last word

The exemption referred to in the analysis applies to the Arizona's policy of exempting candidates from content testing if they possess a master's degree in the content area.

Research rationale

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.  States need either to 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. 

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 in Science: Supporting Research

For an examination of how science teacher preparation positively impacts student achievement, see 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; D. Monk, "Subject area preparation of secondary mathematics and science teachers and student achievement", Economics of Education Review, Volume 13, No. 2, June 1994, pp.125-145; A. Rothman, "Teacher characteristics and student learning". Journal of Research in Science Teaching, Volume 6, No. 4, December 1969, pp. 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,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. Presely, 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, "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.