Secondary Teacher Preparation Policy
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 Illinois requires that its secondary teacher candidates pass a Illinois Licensure Testing System (ILTS) content test to teach any core secondary subjects, the state permits a significant loophole to this important policy by allowing teachers to teach any science or social science subject without requiring subject-matter testing for each subject area within these disciplines.
Science Endorsement Requirements: Illinois requires secondary science teacher candidates to earn a specific subject-area designation (e.g., biology, physics) as part of the science endorsement. In addition to completing 32 semester hours of coursework, candidates must also pass the state's subject-specific content test. Regrettably, Illinois allows these candidates to teach all areas of science at the general level, regardless of the specific designation. However, to teach honors or AP classes, science teachers must have the designation in that particular area.
Social Studies Endorsement Requirements: Illinois has similar requirements for secondary social science certifications. Educators must earn a social science endorsement in a specific content area (e.g. political science, economics) by completing 32 semester hours of coursework and passing the state's subject-specific content test. Educators holding one social science endorsement may be assigned to teach in any social science area at the general level, but the specific designation must be held to teach honors of AP classes.
Illinois Licensure Testing System www.il.nesinc.com 23 Illinois Administrative Code 25.100(f)
Require secondary teachers with umbrella certifications to pass a content test for each discipline they are licensed to teach.
Although Illinois's policy ensures that science and social science teachers who teach upper-level courses possess adequate subject-matter knowledge, it falls short when it comes to general-level courses. A biology teacher, having only passed the state's biology content test, could go on to teach chemistry and physics—just not at the honors or AP level. Or an economics teacher, having passed only the state's economics content test, could go on to teach political science or anthropology, only not at the honors or AP level. The state should ensure that all students, not only those in advanced classes, have teachers with sufficient and appropriate content knowledge.
Illinois recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. The state added that it requires candidates seeking a social science endorsement to earn a specific content area (e.g., political science, economics) by completing 32 semester hours of coursework and passing the state's subject-specific content test. The state also indicated that educators holding one social science endorsement may be assigned to teach in any social science area at the general level, but the specific designation must be held to teach honors or AP classes.
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.