Secondary Licensure Deficiencies: West
Virginia

Secondary Teacher Preparation Policy

Goal

The state should ensure that secondary science and social studies teachers demonstrate sufficient knowledge of all subject matter they are licensed to teach. This goal was consistent between 2017 and 2020.

Meets a small part
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2020). Secondary Licensure Deficiencies: West Virginia results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/WV-Secondary-Licensure-Deficiencies-91

Analysis of West Virginia's policies

Although West Virginia requires that its secondary teacher candidates pass a Praxis content test to teach any core secondary subjects, the state permits a significant loophole to this important policy by allowing general social studies licenses without requiring subject-matter testing for each subject area within this discipline.

Science Endorsement Requirements: Even though West Virginia offers a secondary endorsement in general science, it commendably does not allow these candidates to teach single-subject classes in biology, chemistry, and/or physics. Teachers with this license can teach  environmental science, forensic science, physical science, health science and integrated science topics. Candidates must pass the General Science assessment. The state also requires a passing score for both chemistry and physics subject-specific endorsements to be submitted for the combination endorsement of Chemistry and Physics.

Social Studies Endorsement Requirements:
Social studies teachers in West Virginia must pass the Praxis Social Studies content test. Teachers with this license are not limited to teaching general social studies but rather can teach any of the topical areas.

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.

Citation

Recommendations for West Virginia

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—West Virginia 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 physical science to high school students.

State response to our analysis

West Virginia recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis, however this analysis was updated subsequent to the state's review.  The state quoted the test framework for the Praxis Content Knowledge:Social Studies (5081) test. The test required for Social Studies licensure

"is designed to determine whether an applicant for licensure has the knowledge and skills necessary for a beginning teacher of social studies in a secondary school. The test is aligned to the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) National Standards for Social Studies Teachers. The test requires the examinee to understand and apply social studies knowledge, concepts, methodologies, and skills across the fields of United States history; world history; government/civics/political science; geography; economics; and the behavioral science fields of sociology, anthropology, and psychology. A number of the questions are interdisciplinary, reflecting the complex relationships among the social studies fields. Answering the questions correctly requires knowing, interpreting, and integrating history and social science facts and concepts."
The state quoted also quoted the test framework for the Praxis Content Knowledge:General Science (5435) test. The test required  for General Science licensure
"is designed to measure the knowledge and competencies necessary for a beginning teacher of secondary school General Science. The test reflects the National Science Education Standards (NSES) and the National Science Teacher Association (NSTA) standards and recognize that there are conceptual and procedural schemes that unify the various scientific disciplines. These fundamental concepts and processes (systems; models; constancy and change; equilibrium; form and function) are useful in understanding the natural world. The test will have the primary objective of evaluating the content areas in science."

Updated: February 2020

How we graded

3E: Secondary Licensure Deficiencies 

  • Science Content Requirements: The state should require that all new secondary science teachers pass a separately scored subject-matter test in each science discipline they are licensed to teach, regardless of whether or not the state offers a general science or combination science certification.
  • Social Studies Content Requirements: The state should require that all new secondary social studies teachers pass a separately scored subject-matter test in each social studies discipline they are licensed to teach, regardless of whether or not the state offers a general social studies or combination social studies certification.
Science Content Requirements
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 any of the following criteria are met: 1) all secondary science teachers are required to pass a content test in each science discipline they are licensed to teach, 2) no general science or physical science licenses are offered, 3) teachers with general science licenses are only licensed to teach general science, or 4) general science is offered but there are adequate test requirements.
  • One-quarter credit: The state will earn one-quarter of a point if single-subject content tests are required generally and physical science or combination licenses are also offered.
Social Studies Content Requirements
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 any of the following criteria are met: 1) all secondary social studies teachers are required to pass a subject-matter test in each social studies discipline they are licensed to teach, 2) no general social studies licenses are offered, 3) teachers taking general social studies tests are only licensed to teach general social studies, or 4) general social studies is offered but there are adequate test requirements.

Research rationale

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.[1] 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.[2]

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.[3] 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.[4] 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.


[1] Monk, D. H. (1994). Subject area preparation of secondary mathematics and science teachers and student achievement. Economics of Education Review, 13(2), 125-145.; Baumert, J. (2010). Teachers' mathematical knowledge, cognitive activation in the classroom, and student progress. American Educational Research Journal, 47(1), 133-180.; Rothman, A. I. (1969). Teacher characteristics and student learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 6(4), 340-348.; National Council on Teacher Quality. (2014). Infographic on secondary certification. Retrieved from http://www.nctq.org/dmsView/NCTQ_-_Standard_7,8_Groundwork_-_Infographic_on_Secondary_Certification; See also, 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 http://www.nctq.org/dmsView/The_All_Purpose_Science_Teacher_NCTQ_Report;
[2] National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Recommendations for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Retrieved from http://www.nctq.org/p/publications/docs/nctq_eseaReauthorization.pdf
[3] For research on the importance of elementary teachers having a strong 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 http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED509656.pdf; White, B. R., Presley, J. B., & DeAngelis, K. J. (2008). Leveling up: Narrowing the teacher academic capital gap in Illinois. Illinois Education Research Council. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED502243.pdf; 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 Resources, 505-523.
[4] National Council on Teacher Quality. (2014). Infographic on secondary certification. Retrieved from http://www.nctq.org/dmsView/NCTQ_-_Standard_7,8_Groundwork_-_Infographic_on_Secondary_Certification