Secondary Teacher Preparation in Social
Studies: Illinois

Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy


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

Meets a small part of goal
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Secondary Teacher Preparation in Social Studies: Illinois results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from:

Analysis of Illinois's policies

Illinois commendably requires secondary social science teacher candidates to earn a specific subject-area designation (e.g., economics, history, psychology) as part of the broad-field social science endorsement. In addition to completing 32 semester hours of coursework candidates must also pass the state's ICTS subject-specific content test. Regrettably, Illinois allows these candidates to teach all areas of social science at the general level, regardless of the specific designation. However, to teach honors or AP classes, social science teachers must have the designation in that particular area.

Middle school social science teachers in Illinois must earn an endorsement in general geography or social science. They are required to complete at least 18 semester hours of coursework but are not required to pass a subject-specific content test. Further, Illinois allows middle school teachers to teach on a generalist K-9 license (see Goal 1-E).


Recommendations for Illinois

Require secondary social science teachers to pass tests of content knowledge for each social science discipline they intend to teach.
Although Illinois's policy ensures that social science teachers who teach upper-level courses possess adequate subject matter knowledge, it falls short when it comes to general-level courses. An economics teacher, having only passed the state's economics content test, could go on to teach political science or anthropology—just not at the honors or AP level. More alarming, perhaps, is that a psychology teacher, having only passed the state's psychology assessment, could teach general-level history or geography. The state should ensure that all students, not only those in advanced classes, have teachers with sufficient and appropriate content knowledge.  

Require middle school social science teachers to pass a test of content knowledge that ensures sufficient knowledge of social science.

State response to our analysis

Illinois recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. The state added that it is in the process of writing standards for middle level social science and will require a separate content test for middle level social science teachers. 

Research rationale

Carlisle, J. F., Correnti, R., Phelps, G., & Zeng, J., "Exploration of the contribution of teachers' knowledge about reading to their students' improvement in reading." Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 22, 459-486 (2009) includes evidence specifically related to the importance of secondary social studies knowledge.
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).  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, "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). See also Harris, D., and Sass, T., "Teacher Training, Teacher Quality and Student Achievement." Teacher Quality Research (2007).