The state should ensure that secondary science and social studies teachers demonstrate sufficient knowledge of all subject matter they are licensed to teach. This goal was consistent between 2017 and 2020.
Although Rhode Island requires that its secondary teacher candidates pass a Praxis content test to teach any core secondary subjects, the state permits a significant loophole to this important policy by allowing general social studies licenses without requiring subject-matter testing for each subject area within this discipline.
Science Endorsement Requirements: Rhode Island offers secondary certification in general science; however, the state specifically articulates that teachers with the general science certificate 7-12 may only teach general science 7-12. Candidates must pass the Praxis General Science test.
Social Studies Endorsement Requirements: Candidates are required to pass the Praxis Social Studies content test. Teachers with this license are not limited to teaching general social studies but rather can teach any of the topical areas.
Provisional and Emergency Licensure: Because provisional and emergency licensure requirements are scored in Provisional and Emergency Licensure, only the test requirements for the state's initial license are considered as part of this goal.
Require secondary social studies teachers to pass a content test for each discipline they are licensed to teach.
By allowing a general social studies certification—and only requiring a general knowledge social studies exam—Rhode Island is not ensuring that its secondary teachers possess adequate subject-specific content knowledge. The state's required assessment combines all subject areas (e.g., history, geography, economics) and does not report separate scores for each subject area.
Rhode Island indicated that science teachers wishing to teach biology, chemistry or physics must pass separate content tests.
3E: Secondary Licensure Requirements
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.