The state should ensure that secondary science and social studies teachers know all the subject matter they are licensed to teach. This goal was consistent between 2015 and 2017.
Although Georgia requires that its secondary teacher candidates pass a Georgia Assessments for the Certification of Educators (GACE) content test to teach any core secondary subjects, the state permits a significant loophole to this important policy by allowing a general science certification, without requiring subject-matter testing for each subject area within this discipline.
Science Endorsement Requirements: Candidates must pass a GACE Science assessment, which consists of two subtests: The first includes earth science and life science, and the second includes physical science and characteristics of science. These subtests may be taken as one test or as two separately scored tests.
Social Studies Endorsement Requirements: Georgia does not offer secondary certification in general social studies. Teachers must be certified in a specific discipline within the subject area of social studies.
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 state's required two-part general science assessment combines subject areas such as chemistry and physics or life science and Earth science. A candidate may take the subtests separately or as part of one test. Therefore, candidates could answer many—perhaps all—chemistry questions, for example, incorrectly, yet still be licensed to teach chemistry to high school students.
With regard to the content tests required for the science certification, Georgia indicated that candidates can select to take both tests in one four-hour session or they can take them separately. Each test is scored separately. Both tests must be passed in order to pass the assessment and earn state certification. For instance, a candidate may attempt both tests in one four-hour session and pass only one of the two tests. In that case, the candidate will attempt the test not previously passed in a separate two-hour session.
3E: Secondary Licensure Deficiencies
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 physics having passed only a general science test—and perhaps answering most of the 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 to either 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.
Similarly, 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 may only be 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.