The state should ensure that secondary science teachers know all the subject matter they are licensed to teach.
South Carolina offers a secondary certificate in general science. Candidates must pass the Praxis II Biology and General Science test or the Chemistry, Physics and General Science test. Neither of these combination testing options ensures adequate subject-matter knowledge for all areas of secondary science. Teachers with this certificate may teach all science courses in high school.
South Carolina has other problematic testing requirements for its single-subject science certificates. Biology teachers must pass the combination Biology and General Science test; chemistry and physics teachers must pass the combined Chemistry, Physics and General Science test. It is unclear why the state does not simply require the single-area content knowledge tests, rather than these combination tests, which do not guarantee subject-matter knowledge in a particular area.
Praxis Test Requirements www.ets.org
Require secondary science teachers to pass a content test for each discipline they are licensed to teach.
By allowing a general science certification—and only requiring a general knowledge science exam—South Carolina is not ensuring that these secondary teachers possess adequate subject-specific content knowledge. The state's required assessments combine all subject areas (e.g., biology, chemistry, physics) and do not report separate scores for each subject area. South Carolina should also require specific content tests for its single-subject and combination certifications. The state's requirement of comprehensive content tests fails to guarantee requisite subject-matter knowledge in each discipline.
South Carolina recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. The state added that this goal is one that the superintendent has placed as a high priority item. South Carolina has recently reviewed and set initial cut-scores for secondary content examinations in the areas of biology, chemistry, physics and science. It will require teachers licensed in the sciences to pass a content test in the areas of biology, chemistry or physics. Those who pass the appropriate test will be initially licensed in the disciplinary field of the test and thereafter be eligible to seek certification in broad-field science as an add-on certification only.
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.
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.
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.