Secondary Teacher Preparation in Science and
Social Studies: Oregon

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.

Does not meet goal
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2015). Secondary Teacher Preparation in Science and Social Studies: Oregon results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from:

Analysis of Oregon's policies

New licensure rules in Oregon now allow teachers to "accept any instructional assignment from prekindergarten through grade 12 within the scope of the subject-matter endorsement(s)."

The new endorsement rules, which are effective January 1, 2016, indicate that "the scope of the endorsement shall be determined by the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) course codes associated with the endorsement."

The new rules indicate that candidates must obtain a passing score on the applicable subject-matter test. Although it is unclear which tests are required under this new licensing structure, the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Board (TSPC) still lists the National Evaluation Series (NES) subject-matter tests on its website.

Oregon offers a secondary endorsement in integrated science, which appears to be the equivalent of the general science endorsement found in other states. Candidates must pass the NES General Science test. Teachers with this license are limited to teaching general science and basic level courses in biology, chemistry and physics.

General social studies candidates are required to pass the NES Social Science content test, which combines all subject areas and does not report subscores. Teachers with this license are not limited to teaching general social science but rather can teach any of the topical areas.

In Oregon's transitioning licensing structure, proposed rules indicated that integrated science and social studies candidates will be able to demonstrate subject-matter competence by one of two methods: achieving a "passing score on the applicable content test or complete Commission-approved coursework of forty-five quarter hours designed to develop competency" in the core subject area. These options would apply to the addition of endorsements to an existing license, as well.


Recommendations for Oregon

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—Oregon 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 basic chemistry to high school students.


State response to our analysis

Oregon was helpful in providing facts that enhanced this analysis. The state added that the social studies examination requires passage of all segments of the test in order to pass the examination.

Last word

Limiting teachers with an integrated science endorsement to teaching basic level courses in biology, chemistry and physics does not address the issue of teachers in core science classrooms without evidence of adequate subject-matter preparation.

The NES Social Science test is divided into the following subject areas: Historiography and World History (25%), U.S. History (25%), Geography and Culture (19%), Government (19%), and Economics (12%).  There is one overall score for the exam and it appears possible to answer the majority of questions in a section incorrectly and still receive a passing score on the test.

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.