Secondary Teacher Preparation in Social
Studies: Wisconsin

Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy


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

Meets goal in part
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Secondary Teacher Preparation in Social Studies: Wisconsin results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from:

Analysis of Wisconsin's policies

Wisconsin offers a broad-field social studies license for secondary teachers. To qualify, candidates must complete a social studies program major or a major in one of the following subcategories: geography, history, political science and citizenship, economics, psychology or sociology. The state requires a concentration to teach upper-level courses in a specific subcategory. All candidates, regardless of whether they are applying for the broad-field license or a specific concentration, are only required to pass the Praxis II "Social Studies" content test. 

Although the state's secondary license applies to children ages 10-21, Wisconsin also offers a "middle childhood through early adolescence level (MC-EA)" license for middle school social studies teachers, which is the equivalent of a generalist 1-8 license (see Goal 1-E). These candidates are required to complete a minor in a content-related area and pass the Praxis II "Middle School" content test, which combines all subject areas.


Recommendations for Wisconsin

Require secondary social studies teachers to pass tests of content knowledge for each social studies discipline they intend to teach.
States that allow general social studies certifications—and only require a general knowledge social studies exam—are not ensuring that their secondary teachers possess adequate subject-specific content knowledge. Wisconsin's required assessment combines all subject areas (e.g., history, geography, economics) and does not report separate scores for each subject area. Therefore, candidates could answer many—perhaps all—history questions, for example, incorrectly, yet still be licensed to teach history to high school students.

Wisconsin should also require specific content tests for its subject certifications, such as history and geography. The state's requirement of a general content test even for its subject-specific certifications undermines its apparent effort to ensure content knowledge in each area of social studies.

State response to our analysis

Wisconsin asserted that in December 2010, new rule revisions went into effect allowing professional educators to add licenses in a related subject area by demonstrating content knowledge through a test. The state superintendent has selected subject-specific tests for each of these licenses, and information on the new exams will be available as soon as passing scores are set. Wisconsin anticipated posting this information in September 2011. 

Wisconsin also pointed out that it is a member of the Council of Chief State School Officers' State Collaborative on Assessment and Student Standards (SCASS) for social studies assessment, curriculum and instruction. The state anticipates following the same model for reviewing, adopting and implementing when these standards are available, stating: "This will set into motion a review of our educator preparation program content guidelines and our content testing requirements for social studies licenses." 

Last word

According to both the state's website and ETS, the testing requirements outlined in the analysis are still in effect. 

Research rationale

Carlisle, J. F., Correnti, R., Phelps, G., & Zeng, J., "Exploration of the contribution of teachers' knowledge about reading to their students' improvement in reading." Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 22, 459-486 (2009) includes evidence specifically related to the importance of secondary social studies knowledge.
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).  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, "Does teacher certification matter? High School Certification Status and Student Achievement." Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. 22: 129-145. (2000); and 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). See also Harris, D., and Sass, T., "Teacher Training, Teacher Quality and Student Achievement." Teacher Quality Research (2007).