Secondary Content Knowledge: Wisconsin

Secondary Teacher Preparation Policy


The state should ensure that secondary teachers demonstrate sufficient knowledge appropriate grade-level content. This goal was consistent between 2017 and 2020.

Meets goal in part
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2020). Secondary Content Knowledge: Wisconsin results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from:

Analysis of Wisconsin's policies

Content Test Requirements: Wisconsin offers a "middle and high school" license, which allows teachers to instruct students in grades 4-12.

Under Wisconsin's new licensing structure, candidates for the state's Tier II license (which is the state's initial license) have the following options for demonstrating content knowledge:

  • A cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher in the subject area;
  • A passing score on a standardized test; or
  • Complete a content-based portfolio.
Middle and high school candidates opting to demonstrate content knowledge via a content test are only required to pass the Praxis Middle School: Content Knowledge (5146) test or a Praxis secondary single subject test. The Middle School Content Knowledge provides only a composite score; therefore, there is no assurance that teachers with the "middle and high school license" will have sufficient knowledge in each subject they teach.

Endorsements: Wisconsin requires teachers to pass a Praxis content test in order to add an additional field to a secondary license. However, Wisconsin cannot guarantee content knowledge in each specific subject for secondary teachers who add broad field science or broad field social studies endorsements. 

Secondary Licensure Deficiencies: Unfortunately, Wisconsin allows both general science and general social studies licenses without requiring subject-matter testing for each subject area within these disciplines. Because secondary content testing loopholes are scored in Secondary Licensure Deficiencies, it is not considered as part of the score for the Secondary Content Knowledge goal.

Provisional and Emergency Licensure: Because provisional and emergency licensure requirements are scored in Provisional and Emergency Licensure, only the test requirements for the state's initial license are considered as part of this goal.


Recommendations for Wisconsin

Require subject-matter testing for secondary teacher candidates.
As a condition of licensure, Wisconsin should require its secondary teacher candidates to pass a content test in each subject area they plan to teach to ensure that they possess adequate subject-matter knowledge and are prepared to teach grade-level content.

State response to our analysis

Wisconsin was helpful in providing NCTQ with facts that enhanced this analysis. Wisconsin noted that Broadfield Science and Broadfield Social Studies licenses are not available to add based on passing a content test alone. Applicants adding these licenses must also "demonstrate adequate instruction in the conservation of natural resources." The state also noted that general science and social studies licenses/deficiencies analyses will be true for candidates who will complete new Science all and Social Studies all license preparation programs. According to the state, neither of these have been approved yet under the new PI 34.

Updated: February 2020

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; National Council on Teacher Quality. (2014). Infographic on secondary certification. Retrieved from,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; 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.