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 New Mexico requires that its secondary teacher candidates pass a New Mexico Teacher Assessment (NMTA) content test to teach any core secondary subjects, the state permits a significant loophole to this important policy by allowing both general science and general social studies licenses without requiring subject-matter testing for each subject area within these disciplines.
Science Endorsement Requirements: New Mexico only offers secondary certification in general science. Candidates must pass the NMTA Science assessment. Teachers with this license are not limited to teaching general science but rather can teach any of the topical areas.
Social Studies Endorsement Requirements: New Mexico's general social studies certification area is called "history, geography, economics, civics and government." Candidates must pass the NMTA History, Geography, Economics, Civics and Government assessment, which only provides a composite passing score. Teachers with this license are not limited to teaching general social studies but rather can teach any of the specified areas.
New Mexico Teacher Assessments www.nmta.nesinc.com New Mexico Administrative Code 184.108.40.206
Require secondary teachers with umbrella certifications to pass a content test for each discipline they are licensed to teach.
By allowing general social studies and general science certifications—and only requiring general knowledge exams for each—New Mexico is not ensuring that these secondary teachers possess adequate subject-specific content knowledge. The state's required general social studies assessment combines all subject areas (e.g., history, geography, economics), and its required general science assessment combines subject areas that include biology, chemistry and physics. Neither assessment reports separate scores for each area. Therefore, candidates could answer many—perhaps all—chemistry questions, for example, incorrectly, yet still be licensed to teach chemistry to high school students.
New Mexico recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. The state indicated that its choice of a generalist endorsement for science and social studies was made to meet the needs of its rural state. New Mexico added that it appreciated the feedback about these endorsements and will continue to examine areas in which the state can improve.
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.