The state should ensure that secondary science and social studies teachers know all the subject matter they are licensed to teach. This goal was consistent between 2015 and 2017.
Although Washington requires that its secondary teacher candidates pass a National Evaluation Series (NES) content test to teach any core secondary subjects, the state permits a significant loophole to this important policy by allowing general science and general social studies licenses without requiring subject-matter testing for each subject area within these disciplines.
Science Endorsement Requirements: Beginning in 2019, candidates are required to have an endorsement in biology, chemistry, earth and space science, or physics in order to obtain a general science certification. However, it still appears that teachers adding a general science certification are not limited to teaching general science or the area of their designated science endorsement, but can teach any of the topical areas.
Social Studies Endorsement Requirements: Washington offers secondary certification in general social studies. Candidates are required to pass the WEST-E Social Studies content test, which combines all areas and does not report subscores. Teachers with this license are not limited to teaching general social studies but rather can teach any of the topical areas.
WEST-E Testing Requirements www.west.nesinc.com Revised Code of Washington 28A.410.220 Washington Administrative Code 181-79A-227
Require secondary teachers with umbrella certifications to pass a content test for each discipline they are licensed to teach.
By allowing general social studies and general science certifications—and only requiring general knowledge exams for each—Washington is not ensuring that secondary teachers of these subjects possess adequate subject-specific content knowledge. The state's required general social studies assessment combines all topical areas (e.g., history, geography, economics), and its required general science assessment combines subject areas that include biology, chemistry and physics. Neither assessment reports separate scores for each area. Therefore, candidates could answer many—perhaps all—chemistry questions, for example, incorrectly, yet still be licensed to teach chemistry to high school students. Although Washington requires candidates to pass a single-subject test in addition to the general science exam, it can still result in a teacher teaching physics, for example, having only been tested in chemistry.
Washington was helpful in providing NCTQ with facts necessary for this analysis.
3E: Secondary Licensure Deficiencies
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.