Secondary Teacher Preparation in Science:

2011 Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy


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

Does not meet
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Secondary Teacher Preparation in Science: Michigan results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from:

Analysis of Michigan's policies

Michigan offers secondary certification in integrated science, the state's version of general science, which allows candidates to teach integrated science, biology, chemistry, physics and earth/space science at the secondary level. Candidates must earn either a group major of 36 semester hours of the subjects above distributed among three major categories—life sciences, physical science and earth/space science—or a comprehensive group major, with a minimum of 50 semester hours distributed among the three categories. Candidates must also pass the MTTC "Integrated Science" test, which combines all scientific areas but does not report individual scores for specific subjects. Teachers with this license are not limited to teaching general science but rather can teach any of the topical areas.

Michigan also offers certification in physical science, which allows candidates to teach chemistry and physics at the secondary level.  They are required to pass the MTTC "Physical Science" test, which combines chemistry and physics but does not report individual scores.

Middle school science teachers in Michigan have the option of earning the elementary integrated science endorsement, which prepares candidates to teach integrated science in grades K-5, as well as biology, chemistry, physics and earth/space science in the middle grades. In addition to either a group major with a minimum of 36 semester hours distributed among the three major categories mentioned above, or a group minor with a minimum of 24 semester hours, candidates must also pass the MTTC "Integrated Science (Elementary)" test, which combines foundations of scientific inquiry, life science, earth/space science and physical science. It appears this test is geared to elementary-level science and is not an adequate assessment of content knowledge for middle school teachers. Regrettably, Michigan also allows middle school teachers to teach on a generalist K-8 license (see Goal 1-E).


Recommendations for Michigan

Require secondary science teachers to pass tests of content knowledge for each science discipline they intend to teach.
States that allow general science certifications or combination licenses across multiple science disciplines—and do not require content tests for each area—are not ensuring that these secondary teachers possess adequate subject-specific content knowledge. 

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

State response to our analysis

Michigan noted that NCTQ did not distinguish K-8 self-contained authorization from K-8 departmentalized classrooms, in which middle school teachers with an elementary certificate would be required to hold an additional content endorsement. 

Last word

The issue of K-8 licenses is addressed and factored into the rating in Goal 1-E.  For the purposes of this goal, it is only mentioned to point out that middle school teachers on that license need not have passed the "Integrated Science" test. This is equally problematic whether middle school-level science is taught in a self-contained or departmentalized classroom.   

How we graded

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 chemistry or physics having passed only a general science test—and perhaps answering most of the chemistry or 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.  There are strategies that districts and states can pursue to improve the pipeline of science teachers—strategies such as UTEACH that use technology, distance learning and alternate routes into STEM fields.  

Middle school science teachers must know middle grade-level science.  

Many states require that middle school teachers pass a multiple-subject general knowledge test.  Teacher candidates need only achieve an overall passing score, meaning that  it could be possible to answer most—perhaps all, given the low cut scores in some states—science questions incorrectly and still pass.  Such tests are problematic at the elementary level, as they may mask serious weaknesses in teachers' content knowledge.  But at the middle school level the tests are even more flawed, since teachers may not even be generalists.  Science may be the only subject a middle school teacher teaches, and yet her license offers no assurance that she knows the material she is teaching.  

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).