Secondary Teacher Preparation: California

2015 Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy

Goal

The state should ensure that secondary teachers are sufficiently prepared to teach appropriate grade-level content and for the ways that college- and career-readiness standards affect instruction of all subject areas.

Meets a small part

Analysis of California's policies

California offers a K-12 Single Subject Teaching Credential. The state requires its secondary teacher candidates to verify subject-matter competence in one of two ways: earn a passing score on the appropriate subject-matter exam (CSET) or complete a commission-approved subject-matter program. 

Secondary teachers in California may add endorsements to their licenses through similar options as outlined above.

California's preparation and licensure requirements for secondary teachers ensure that teachers will be prepared to address the instructional shifts associated with college- and career-readiness standards. The state's testing framework for its single-subject CSET English assessment addresses informational texts and text complexity, thereby aligning it with the California college- and career-readiness standards. Educator preparation standards for secondary English teachers require the following: "promoting students' ability to access grade-level texts of increasing depth and complexity and activate background knowledge, make connections, synthesize information, and evaluate texts. " 

The state's educator preparation standards address the incorporation of literacy across core content areas. Both single-subject and multiple subject credential candidates must be able to "teach students to independently read and comprehend instructional materials that include increasingly complex subject-relevant texts and graphic/media representations presented in diverse formats. Candidates also teach students to write opinion/persuasive and expository text in the content area." These requirements are repeated in all educator preparation standards related to Reading/Language Arts, Science, and Social Science.

California's educator preparation standards in Reading, Writing and Related Language Instruction address the needs of struggling readers by requiring that secondary teachers be able to "differentiate instruction based on the needs and strengths of the range of learners in the classroom, including English learners, struggling readers and writers...."

Citation

Recommendations for California

Require subject-matter testing for secondary teacher candidates.
As a condition of licensure, California 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. 

Require subject-matter testing when adding subject-area endorsements.
California should require passing scores on subject-specific content tests, regardless of other coursework or degree requirements, for teachers who are licensed in core secondary subjects and wish to add another subject area, or endorsement, to their licenses. While coursework may be generally indicative of background in a particular subject area, only a subject-matter test ensures that teachers know the specific content they will need to teach.

Incorporate informational text of increasing complexity into classroom instruction.
Although California's preparation standards address a secondary teacher's ability to challenge students with texts of increasing complexity, the state should strengthen its policy and ensure that secondary teachers are able to do so with informational texts.

State response to our analysis

The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing was helpful in providing NCTQ with facts necessary for this analysis.

California also asserted that although secondary candidates may add an additional subject-matter area to their credential via CSET examination or via completing a Commission-approved subject-matter program that covers and assesses the same content, in fact, all such candidates complete the examination option rather than the program option. Thus, according to the Commission, all secondary candidates adding an additional content area have passed the applicable CSET subject-matter examination as recommended by NCTQ.

Last word

If all candidates do pass subject-matter tests for licensure, NCTQ wonders why the state continues to keep the program option in effect. It does not appear there would be any significant pushback from the field to eliminating this option if it is the case that it is never exercised.

How we graded

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 only a rigorous test ensures that teacher candidates are sufficiently and appropriately knowledgeable in their content area. 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. 

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.  Some states require a content test for initial licensure but not for adding an endorsement, even if the endorsement is in a completely unrelated subject. 

College- and career-readiness standards require significant shifts in literacy instruction.
College- and career-readiness standards for K-12 students adopted by nearly all states require from teachers a different focus on literacy integrated into all subject areas. The standards demand that teachers are prepared to bring complex text and academic language into regular use, emphasize the use of evidence from informational and literary texts and build knowledge and vocabulary through content-rich text. While most states have not ignored teachers' need for training and professional development related to these instructional shifts, few states have attended to the parallel need to align teacher competencies and requirements for teacher preparation so that new teachers will enter the classroom ready to help students meet the expectations of these standards. Particularly for secondary teachers of subjects other than English language arts, these instructional shifts may be especially acute.

Secondary Teacher Preparation: Supporting Research
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, Volume 42, No. 4, Fall 2007, pp. 765-794.  See also D. Harris and T. Sass, "Teacher Training,Teacher Quality, and Student Achievement". Calder Institute,March 2007, Working Paper 3. Evidence can also be found in B. White, J. Presley, and K. DeAngelis "Leveling Up: Narrowing the Teacher Academic Capital Gap in Illinois", Illinois Education Research Council, Policy Research Report: IERC 2008-1, 44 p.; D. Goldhaber and D. Brewer, "Does Teacher Certification Matter? High School Teacher Certification Status and Student Achievement." Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Volume 22, No. 2, June 20, 2000, pp. 129-145; 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, Volume 32, No. 3, Summer 1997, pp. 505-523.

J. Carlisle, R. Correnti, G. Phelps, and J. Zeng, "Exploration of the contribution of teachers' knowledge about reading to their students' improvement in reading." Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Volume 22, No. 4, April 2009, pp. 457-486, 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, Volume 42, No. 4, Fall 2007, pp. 765-794.  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 Teacher Certification Status and Student Achievement." Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Volume 22, No. 2, June 20, 2000, pp. 129-145; 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, Volume 32, No. 3, Summer 1997, pp. 505-523. See also D. Harris and T. Sass, "Teacher Training, Teacher Quality, and Student Achievement". Calder Institute, March 2007, Working Paper 3.

For an extensive summary of the research base supporting the instructional shifts associated with college- and career-readiness standards, see "Research Supporting the Common Core ELA Literacy Shifts and Standards" available from Student Achievement Partners.