Secondary Content Knowledge: Tennessee

2017 Secondary Teacher Preparation Policy

Goal

The state should ensure that secondary teachers are sufficiently prepared to teach appropriate grade-level content. This goal was reorganized in 2017.

Nearly meets

Analysis of Tennessee's policies

Content Test Requirements: Tennessee offers single-subject secondary licenses to teach grades 6-12. The state requires that its secondary teacher candidates pass a Praxis II content test to teach any core secondary subjects.

However, the state allows teachers to delay passage of content tests if they possess a bachelor's degree in a core content area.

Endorsements: To add an additional field to a secondary license, teachers in Tennessee must also pass a Praxis II content test.

Citation

Recommendations for Tennessee

Eliminate test exemption.
Tennessee should require passing scores on subject-specific content tests, regardless of other coursework or degree requirements, for teachers who are licensed in core secondary subjects. Although coursework or a degree may be generally indicative of a background in a particular subject area, only a subject-matter test ensures that teachers know the specific content they will need to teach.

Ensure meaningful content tests.
To ensure that its secondary content tests are meaningful, Tennessee should reevaluate its passing scores so that all tests reflect high levels of performance. For example, the passing score for the Praxis II World and U.S. History: Content Knowledge test is set just above the 9th percentile.

State response to our analysis

Tennessee indicated that the test-delay policy was passed to allow flexibility for educators coming from out-of-state or educators who are enrolling in job-embedded programs. The state will issue a license in cases where the content knowledge of the educator is verified by the educator preparation program. The only alternative to passing a test of content knowledge is having a major in the content area. This comment applies to all related to goals.  Tennessee also noted that on July 2, 2017, a new qualifying score for the World and US History Praxis exam became effective. This new score (157) is the score recommended by the national panel convened by ETS. There is only one other state that is at or above this required score.


Updated: December 2017

How we graded

3D: Secondary Content Knowledge

  • Content Tests: The state should require that all new secondary teachers pass a separately scored subject-matter test in every subject they are licensed to teach.
  • Additional Endorsements: The state should require that all secondary teachers pass a separately scored subject-matter test when adding subject-area endorsements to an existing license.
Content Tests
One-half of the total goal score is earned based on the following:

  • One-half credit: The state will earn one-half of a point if it requires all new secondary teachers to pass a separately scored licensing test in every subject they are licensed to teach. 
Additional Endorsements
One-half of the total goal score is earned based on the following:

  • One-half credit: The state will earn one-half of a point if it requires all secondary teachers to pass a separately scored content test to add subject-area endorsements to an existing license.

Research rationale

Completion of coursework provides no assurance that prospective teachers know the specific content they will teach. Secondary teachers must be experts in the subject matter they teach, and a rigorous, subject-matter specific test ensures that teacher candidates are sufficiently and appropriately knowledgeable in their content area. In fact, research suggests that a positive correlation exists between teachers' content knowledge and the academic achievement of their students.[1] Coursework is generally only indicative of background in a subject area; even a major offers no certainty of what content has been covered. A history major, for example, could have studied relatively little American history or almost exclusively American history. To assume that the major has adequately prepared the candidate to teach American history, European history, or ancient civilizations is an unwarranted leap of faith, whereas a rigorous content test could verify aspiring teachers' knowledge in each topic area.

Requirements should be just as rigorous when adding an endorsement to an existing license. Many states will allow teachers to add a content area endorsement to their license simply on the basis of having completed coursework. As described above, the completion of coursework does not offer assurance of specific content knowledge. Even states that require a content test for initial licensure should require an additional content test for adding an endorsement.


[1] Monk, D. (1994). Subject-area preparation of secondary mathematics and science teachers and student achievement. Economics of Education Review, 13(2), 125-145; Goldhaber, D. D., & Brewer, D. J. (1997). Why don't schools and teachers seem to matter? Assessing the impact of unobservables on educational productivity. Journal of Human Research, 32(3), 505-523.; National Council on Teacher Quality. (2010). The all-purpose science teacher: An analysis of loopholes in state requirements for high school science teachers. Retrieved from http://www.nctq.org/p/publications/docs/NCTQ_All_Purpose_Science_Teacher.pdf; National Council on Teacher Quality. (2014). Infographic on secondary certification. Retrieved from http://www.nctq.org/dmsView/NCTQ_-_Standard_7,8_Groundwork_-_Infographic_on_Secondary_Certification; For consideration for elementary teachers' need to master content knowledge, see: Goldhaber, D. (2007). Everyone's doing it, but what does teacher testing tell us about teacher effectiveness? Journal of Human Resources, 42(4), 765-794.; See also: Harris, D. N., & Sass, T. R. (2011). Teacher training, teacher quality and student achievement. Journal of Public Economics, 95(7), 798-812. Retrieved from
http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED509656.pdf; For research on this effect specific to reading achievement: Carlisle, J. F., Correnti, R., Phelps, G., & Zeng, J. (2009). Exploration of the contribution of elementary teachers' knowledge about reading to their students' improvement in reading. Reading and Writing, 22(4), 457-486.