Secondary Teacher Preparation in Science:
Texas

2011 Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy

Goal

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

Does not meet
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Secondary Teacher Preparation in Science: Texas results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/TX-Secondary-Teacher-Preparation-in-Science-6

Analysis of Texas's policies

Texas offers a secondary certificate in general science. Teachers with this license are not limited to teaching general science but rather can teach any of the topical areas. Candidates are only required to pass the state's TExES content test in science, which combines all areas of science and does not report results in each specific subject area. 

Texas also offers a secondary certificate in physical science, which allows teachers to teach both physics and chemistry. These candidates must only pass the combination physical science assessment. 

Middle school science teachers in Texas may teach on either a generalist (4-8) or a subject-specific (4-8) endorsement. Candidates must earn either an academic discipline major or an interdisciplinary academic major. In addition to the six semester hours of science required by the state's core curriculum guidelines, degree programs leading to 4-8 certification must include another six to nine semester hours of coursework in science (physical science, life science or a combination of the two).

Middle school candidates must also pass a subject-matter test. Those seeking the subject-specific endorsement must take a single-subject test; however, those teaching under the generalist license only have to pass the generalist exam, in which science accounts for just 23 percent of the test, and subscores are not reported.

Citation

Recommendations for Texas

Require secondary science teachers to pass tests of content knowledge for each science discipline they intend to teach.
States that allow general science certifications or combination licenses across multiple science disciplines—and only require a general knowledge science exam—are not ensuring that these secondary teachers possess adequate subject-specific content knowledge. Texas's required general assessments combine subject areas (e.g., biology, chemistry, physics) and do 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. 

Require middle school science teachers to pass a test of content knowledge that ensures sufficient knowledge of science.
Although the state's testing requirements for its subject-specific endorsements ensure adequate subject matter knowledge, Texas should require that even its middle school science teachers teaching on the generalist 4-8 certificate have the requisite knowledge in the specific content. The state's current policy of only requiring a general exam falls short of guaranteeing adequate subject matter knowledge for these teachers. 

State response to our analysis

Texas recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. The state added that as part of its current testing contract RFP (Request for Proposal), it is considering the elimination of the generalist 4-8 examination, which may then realign the subject-area examinations to grades 7-12. 

How we graded

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.  There are strategies that districts and states can pursue to improve the pipeline of science teachers—strategies such as UTEACH that use technology, distance learning and alternate routes into STEM fields.  

Middle school science teachers must know middle grade-level science.  

Many states require that middle school teachers pass a multiple-subject general knowledge test.  Teacher candidates need only achieve an overall passing score, meaning that  it could be possible to answer most—perhaps all, given the low cut scores in some states—science questions incorrectly and still pass.  Such tests are problematic at the elementary level, as they may mask serious weaknesses in teachers' content knowledge.  But at the middle school level the tests are even more flawed, since teachers may not even be generalists.  Science may be the only subject a middle school teacher teaches, and yet her license offers no assurance that she knows the material she is teaching.  

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).