Secondary Teacher Preparation in Science: New
York

2011 Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy

Goal

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

Nearly meets
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Secondary Teacher Preparation in Science: New York results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/NY-Secondary-Teacher-Preparation-in-Science-6

Analysis of New York's policies

New York does not offer certification in general science for secondary teachers. Teachers must be certified in a specific discipline within the subject area of science. 

Middle school science teachers in New York have the option of a middle grades specialist certificate, which requires a major in biology, chemistry, earth science or physics. Candidates must pass an NYSTCE content test in one of these specific areas. Those teaching grades 7 and 8 in a K-8 setting, however, are required to earn a generalist in middle childhood education certificate and to pass the state's multi-subject exam. 

Citation

Recommendations for New York

Require all middle school science teachers to pass a test of content knowledge that ensures sufficient knowledge of science.
Although New York's specialist option ensures requisite subject matter knowledge, the state's generalist option falls short. The multi-subject exam combines English, math, science, social studies, fine arts, health and fitness, and family and consumer science and career development and does not report separate scores for each subject area.

State response to our analysis

New York recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. The state added that the middle school generalist certification is only accepted for K-8 nondepartmentalized schools. In schools that are departmentalized for grades 7 and 8, the appropriate science certification is required for science instruction. Further, once certified in one of the four subject areas—biology, chemistry, earth science or physics—a general science extension can be issued. 

Last word

All middle school students need teachers that are well prepared to teach middle school-level science, whether this occurs 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).