Secondary Teacher Preparation in Science:
District of Columbia

Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy

Goal

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

Meets in part
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). 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-6

Analysis of District of Columbia's policies

The District of Columbia offers a general science certification for secondary teachers. A minimum of six semester hours in each of the following is required: biology, chemistry, physics, earth and space science, and environmental science. Candidates must also 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.

Middle school teachers in the District  must complete a minimum of 30 semester hours in a content-related major. Commendably, candidates must also pass a Praxis II content knowledge test in the content area of the teaching assignment.

Citation

Recommendations for District of Columbia

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 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 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. 

The District added that the assertion that candidates may take the general science exam "yet still be licensed to teach chemistry to high school students" is incorrect. Teachers of the discrete sciences must obtain subject-specific licensure and take the relevant subject-specific licensure exams or be deemed "teaching out of field." A general science license is not the approrpiate license for teachers of the discrete science, hence the purpose of having licenses specific to the areas of biology, chemistry, and physics.

Last word

The area of concern is the District of Columbia's general science certification, not subject-specific science certifications. 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 bot teach, the District of Columbia 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.

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).