Secondary Content Knowledge: Massachusetts

Secondary Teacher Preparation Policy


The state should ensure that secondary teachers are sufficiently prepared to teach appropriate grade-level content. This goal was reorganized in 2017.

Meets goal
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2017). Secondary Content Knowledge: Massachusetts results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from:

Analysis of Massachusetts's policies

Content Test Requirements: Massachusetts offers single-subject secondary licenses to teach grades 8-12. The state requires that its secondary teacher candidates pass a Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensing (MTEL) content test to teach any core secondary subjects.  

Endorsements: Further, to add an additional field to a secondary license, teachers must also pass a content test. However, Massachusetts cannot guarantee content knowledge in each specific subject for secondary teachers who add social studies endorsements. 

Secondary Licensure Deficiencies: Unfortunately, Massachusetts allows a general social studies license without requiring subject-matter testing for each subject area within these disciplines. Because secondary content testing loopholes are scored in 3-E: Secondary Licensure Deficiencies, it is not considered as part of the score for the Secondary Content Knowledge goal.


Recommendations for Massachusetts

Require subject-matter testing for all secondary teacher candidates.
Massachusetts wisely requires subject-matter tests for most secondary teachers but should address any loopholes that undermine this policy (see Goal 3-E: Secondary Licensure Deficiencies analysis and recommendations). This applies to the addition of endorsements as well.

State response to our analysis

Massachusetts recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. The state added that in June of 2017, The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved revised regulatory language that grants the state department the authority to develop (and update) guidelines for the Subject-Matter Knowledge (SMK) requirements used by providers to design teacher preparation programs and by the state in developing items and cut-scores for the MTEL. In anticipation of this, the state has already begun convening working groups from the field to update the SMKs in alignment with the 2013 MA Curriculum Frameworks. This will mean substantial revisions to expectations for teacher candidates in all programs with a focus on literacy across the subject-areas and an emphasis on college and career readiness for students.

Updated: December 2017

Last word

NCTQ looks forward to reviewing the state's progress in future editions of the Yearbook.

How we graded

3D: Secondary Content Knowledge

  • Content Tests: The state should require that all new secondary teachers pass a separately scored subject-matter test in every subject they are licensed to teach.
  • Additional Endorsements: The state should require that all secondary teachers pass a separately scored subject-matter test when adding subject-area endorsements to an existing license.
Content Tests
One-half of the total goal score is earned based on the following:

  • One-half credit: The state will earn one-half of a point if it requires all new secondary teachers to pass a separately scored licensing test in every subject they are licensed to teach. 
Additional Endorsements
One-half of the total goal score is earned based on the following:

  • One-half credit: The state will earn one-half of a point if it requires all secondary teachers to pass a separately scored content test to add subject-area endorsements to an existing license.

Research rationale

Completion of coursework provides no assurance that prospective teachers know the specific content they will teach. Secondary teachers must be experts in the subject matter they teach, and a rigorous, subject-matter specific test ensures that teacher candidates are sufficiently and appropriately knowledgeable in their content area. In fact, research suggests that a positive correlation exists between teachers' content knowledge and the academic achievement of their students.[1] Coursework is generally only indicative of background in a subject area; even a major offers no certainty of what content has been covered. A history major, for example, could have studied relatively little American history or almost exclusively American history. To assume that the major has adequately prepared the candidate to teach American history, European history, or ancient civilizations is an unwarranted leap of faith, whereas a rigorous content test could verify aspiring teachers' knowledge in each topic area.

Requirements should be just as rigorous when adding an endorsement to an existing license. Many states will allow teachers to add a content area endorsement to their license simply on the basis of having completed coursework. As described above, the completion of coursework does not offer assurance of specific content knowledge. Even states that require a content test for initial licensure should require an additional content test for adding an endorsement.

[1] Monk, D. (1994). Subject-area preparation of secondary mathematics and science teachers and student achievement. Economics of Education Review, 13(2), 125-145; Goldhaber, D. D., & Brewer, D. J. (1997). Why don't schools and teachers seem to matter? Assessing the impact of unobservables on educational productivity. Journal of Human Research, 32(3), 505-523.; National Council on Teacher Quality. (2010). The all-purpose science teacher: An analysis of loopholes in state requirements for high school science teachers. Retrieved from; National Council on Teacher Quality. (2014). Infographic on secondary certification. Retrieved from,8_Groundwork_-_Infographic_on_Secondary_Certification; For consideration for elementary teachers' need to master content knowledge, see: Goldhaber, D. (2007). Everyone's doing it, but what does teacher testing tell us about teacher effectiveness? Journal of Human Resources, 42(4), 765-794.; See also: Harris, D. N., & Sass, T. R. (2011). Teacher training, teacher quality and student achievement. Journal of Public Economics, 95(7), 798-812. Retrieved from; For research on this effect specific to reading achievement: Carlisle, J. F., Correnti, R., Phelps, G., & Zeng, J. (2009). Exploration of the contribution of elementary teachers' knowledge about reading to their students' improvement in reading. Reading and Writing, 22(4), 457-486.