Secondary Teacher Preparation in Science:
Utah

2011 Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy

Goal

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

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

Analysis of Utah's policies

Utah no longer offers a general science certification for secondary teachers. The state discontinued its integrated science endorsement after the 2010-2011 school year. It does, however, have a physical science endorsement, which allows teachers to teach both physics and chemistry. Candidates are required to pass either the Praxis II "Physical Science" content test or the "Chemistry, Physics and General Science" combination test. Further, candidates applying for the chemistry endorsement are required to pass either the Praxis II "Chemistry" content test or the "Chemistry, Physics and General Science" combination test.

The state also offers a middle level science endorsement, which is only available to teachers who already hold a secondary certification in another science area. Commendably, these candidates are required to pass the Praxis II "General Science" content test.

Regrettably, however, Utah allows middle school science teachers to teach on a generalist 1-8 license, if they are in self-contained classrooms (see Goal 1-E).

Citation

Recommendations for Utah

Require secondary science teachers to pass tests of content knowledge for each science discipline they intend to teach.
States that allow combination licenses across multiple science disciplines—and require only a comprehensive content test—are not ensuring that these secondary teachers possess adequate subject-specific content knowledge. Utah's required assessment combines both physics and chemistry and does not report separate scores for each subject. Therefore, a candidate could, for example, answer many physics questions incorrectly on the combination content test, yet still be licensed to teach physics to high school students. Further, candidates for the chemistry endorsement should be required to pass a chemistry content test, rather than a combination assessment that cannot ensure adequate subject matter knowledge.

State response to our analysis

Utah recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis.

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).