Secondary Teacher Preparation in Science and
Social Studies: Missouri

Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy


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

Meets goal
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2015). Secondary Teacher Preparation in Science and Social Studies: Missouri results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from:

Analysis of Missouri's policies

Although Missouri offers general science certification for secondary teachers, these candidates are only allowed to teach general science courses. Candidates are required to pass the newly adopted Missouri Educator Gateway Assessments (MEGA) General Science test. 

Missouri also offers a unified science certification, and the state notably requires unified science candidates to pass a content test in the unified science area, as well as in each supporting academic content area. For example, a candidate for Unified Science-Biology would have to pass a biology content test as well as earn passing scores on chemistry, earth science and physics subtests. 

Although the state offers certification in general social studies, candidates must now pass the newly adopted MEGA Social Sciences Multi-Content test, which includes six independent subtests in U.S. history, world history, government, geography, economics and behavioral science.


Recommendations for Missouri

Explicitly articulate that general science teachers may only teach general science courses. 
Although Missouri requires its Core Data Process to verify that teachers holding the general science certificate are only teaching general science courses, the state is encouraged to clarify its policy so that districts are aware of this license restriction. This would ensure that general science placements are as the state intends, rather than the current system of verification after the fact. 

State response to our analysis

Missouri recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. The state added that the Core Data System verifies that teachers hold the appropriate levels of certification for science instruction, including general science. Regional supervisors also verify that teachers in each school district under their supervision hold appropriate certification, and there are ramifications if those requirements are not followed. The state added that the Missouri Model Standards and Quality Indicators include competencies in literacy.

Research rationale

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.  States need either to 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. 

Is a social studies teacher prepared to teach history?
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 are usually only 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.

Secondary Teacher Preparation in Science: Supporting Research

For an examination of how science teacher preparation positively impacts student achievement, see D. Goldhaber and D. Brewer, "Does Teacher Certification Matter? High School Teacher Certification Status and Student Achievement", Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Volume 22, No. 2, June 20, 2000, pp. 129-145; D. Monk, "Subject area preparation of secondary mathematics and science teachers and student achievement", Economics of Education Review, Volume 13, No. 2, June 1994, pp.125-145; A. Rothman, "Teacher characteristics and student learning". Journal of Research in Science Teaching, Volume 6, No. 4, December 1969, pp. 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,Volume 42, No. 4, Fall 2007, pp. 765-794.  See also D. Harris and T. Sass, "Teacher Training, Teacher Quality, and Student Achievement". Calder Institute,March 2007, Working Paper 3. Evidence can also be found in B. White, J. Presely, and K. DeAngelis, "Leveling up: Narrowing the Teacher Academic Capital Gap in Illinois", Illinois Education Research Council, Policy Research Report: IERC 2008-1, 44 p.; 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, Volume 32, No. 3, Summer 1997, pp. 505-523.