Secondary Teacher Preparation in Science:
Pennsylvania

Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy

Goal

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

Meets in part
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Secondary Teacher Preparation in Science: Pennsylvania results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/PA-Secondary-Teacher-Preparation-in-Science-6

Analysis of Pennsylvania's policies

Pennsylvania offers secondary certification in general science. Candidates must only pass the Praxis II "General Science" content test. Teachers with this license are not limited to teaching general science but rather can teach any of the topical areas.

Middle school science teachers in Pennsylvania have the option of a middle level science certificate. Candidates must earn an academic major and, commendably, pass the Praxis II "Middle School Science" test.

Citation

Recommendations for Pennsylvania

Require secondary science teachers to pass tests of content knowledge for each science discipline they intend to teach.
States that allow general science certifications—and require only a general content test—are not ensuring that these secondary teachers possess adequate subject-specific content knowledge. Pennsylvania's required assessment combines all subject areas (e.g., biology, chemistry, physics) and does not report separate scores for each subject area. Therefore, candidates could answer many—perhaps all—chemistry questions, for example, incorrectly, yet still be licensed to teach chemistry to high school students.

State response to our analysis

Pennsylvania asserted that while there is a general science assessment, a teacher cannot teach a specific science course (e.g., biology, chemistry) without passing the Praxis II content test. The state also pointed out that it offers 7-12 certificates for each of the following science subjects: biology, chemistry, physics, earth science and environmental education. Each of the sciences has its own content knowledge test, which is required before any of the science subject certificates are issued. Further, each of the sciences has its own program guidelines: "A teacher who holds a general science certificate is not authorized to teach biology, chemistry, physics, earth sciences or environmental education."

Last word

NCTQ is unable to find policy that limits teachers with a general science certificate to teaching only general science courses. Rather than rely on assumed common understandings regarding which courses a teacher with a general science certificate may or may not teach, Pennsylvania should articulate specific policy ensuring that all science teachers are required to pass a subject-specific content test for each area they plan to teach. 

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).