Secondary Teacher Preparation: District of
Columbia

2011 Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy

Goal

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

Meets in part
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Secondary Teacher Preparation: District of Columbia results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/DC-Secondary-Teacher-Preparation-6

Analysis of District of Columbia's policies

The District of Columbia does not ensure that all secondary teachers are adequately prepared to teach grade-level content.

The District of Columbia requires that its secondary teacher candidates pass a Praxis II content test to teach any core secondary subjects.  Unfortunately, the District permits a significant loophole to this important policy by allowing both general science and general social studies licenses, without requiring subject-matter testing for each subject area within these disciplines (see Goals 1-G and 1-H).

To add an endorsement area, secondary teachers may choose from the following options: earn a passing score on a Praxis II content exam, complete a major or major equivalent in the subject area, or meet the coursework requirements outlined in the District's regulations.

Citation

Recommendations for District of Columbia

Require subject-matter testing for all secondary teacher candidates.
The District of Columbia wisely requires subject-matter tests for most secondary teachers but should address any loopholes that undermine this policy (see Goals 1-G and 1-H). 

Require subject-matter testing when adding subject-area endorsements.
The District of Columbia 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. While coursework 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.

State response to our analysis

The District of Columbia asserted that it requires testing and licensure in the following sciences: biology, chemistry and physics. Teachers in these subject areas are required to obtain subject-specific licensure. 

Last word

The issue of general science licensure is discussed in Goal 1-G. 

How we graded

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.  

Research rationale

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, Pressely, DeAngelis "Leveling up: Narrowing the teacher academic capital gap in Illinois" Illinois Education Research Council (2008); D. Goldhaber and D. Brewer, "Does teacher certification matter? High School Certification Status and Student Achievement." Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. 22: 129-145. (2000); 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 (1998).