Secondary Teacher Preparation in Science:
District of Columbia

2013 Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy

Goal

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

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

Analysis of District of Columbia's policies

The District of Columbia offers a general science certification for secondary teachers. Candidates must pass the Praxis II General Science test. Teachers with this license are not limited to teaching general science but rather can teach any of the topical areas.

Citation

Recommendations for District of Columbia

Require secondary science teachers to pass a content test for each discipline they are licensed to teach.

States that allow general science certifications—and only require a general knowledge science exam—are not ensuring that these secondary teachers possess adequate subject-specific content knowledge. The District of Columbia's required assessment combines subject areas (e.g., biology, chemistry, physics) and does not report separate scores for each subject area. Therefore, candidates could answer many—perhaps all—chemistry questions, for example, incorrectly yet still be licensed to teach chemistry to high school students.

State response to our analysis

The District of Columbia asserted that teachers of the discrete sciences—biology, chemistry and physics—must obtain subject-specific licensure in these subject areas and take the relevant subject-specific licensure exams or be deemed "teaching out-of-field." The District cited its regulation stating that licensure is required in the subject areas enumerated in the chapter. A general science license is not the appropriate license for teachers of the discrete sciences, hence the purpose of having licenses specific to the areas of biology, chemistry and physics. 

Last word

As discussed in Goal 1-F, the District of Columbia requires content tests for licenses in discrete subject areas, including the sciences.  The issue here is the general science license. 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, the District should articulate 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

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. 

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.