Secondary Teacher Preparation in Science:
West Virginia

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: West Virginia results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/WV-Secondary-Teacher-Preparation-in-Science-6

Analysis of West Virginia's policies

West Virginia offers a secondary endorsement in general science. Because there is no corresponding baccalaureate degree in general science, the state requires not less than 48 credit hours in the content area. Candidates must pass all of the following Praxis II tests: "Biology" (Part 1), "Physical Science," and "General Science" (Part 2). However, the state allows a passing score for either the chemistry or physics subject-specific endorsements to be submitted in substitution for the physical science test requirement outlined above. Teachers with this license are not limited to teaching general science but rather can teach any of the topical areas.

Middle school science teachers in West Virginia must earn a middle level endorsement. Candidates must complete a subject-area minor and, commendably, they must also pass the Praxis II "Middle School Science" test.

Citation

Recommendations for West Virginia

Require secondary science teachers to pass tests of content knowledge for each science discipline they intend to teach.
States that allow general science certifications—but don't require passing scores on content tests for each subject area taught—are not ensuring that these secondary teachers possess adequate subject-specific content knowledge. Although West Virginia requires more tests than many of the other states that allow a general science endorsement, its requirements still do not ensure adequate subject matter knowledge. For example, a candidate could submit a passing score on the "Chemistry" exam to satisfy the physical science requirement, and then answer many questions incorrectly regarding physics on the "General Science" exam, yet still go on to teach high school physics.

State response to our analysis

West Virginia asserted that teachers who hold the general science endorsement are not eligible to teach "any of the topical" areas as mentioned above. They are allowed to teach general science in grades 5-8, as well as physical science, earth science and environmental science at the high school level.   

Last word

Even if these are the only classes that general science teachers are allowed to teach at the secondary level, there still is no guarantee that they possess the requisite knowledge in these areas, based on West Virginia's testing requirements. Physical science teachers must be able to teach both chemistry and physics. The Praxis II Physical Science content test does not report subscores for each of these areas, so a candidate could potentially answer many questions incorrectly in one area yet still pass the test. Candidates that choose to substitute either the Chemistry or Physics test for the Physical Science test will be teaching a subject area in which they have never been tested. 

Interestingly, biology is the only area in which the state can guarantee requisite knowledge based on its testing requirements, yet this is the one subject general science teachers may not teach in high school. 

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).