Secondary Content Knowledge: District of
Columbia

2017 General Teacher Prep Programs Policy

Goal

The state should ensure that secondary teachers are sufficiently prepared to teach appropriate grade-level content. This goal was reorganized in 2017.

Meets in part

Analysis of District of Columbia's policies

Content Test Requirements: The District of Columbia offers single-subject secondary licenses to teach grades 7-12. The District requires that its secondary teacher candidates pass a Praxis II content test to teach any core secondary subjects.  

The District of Columbia requires enrollment in but not completion of, a teacher preparation program in order to obtain an initial license. While this initial license is non-renewable, it is valid for three years. Teachers must complete a teacher preparation program and complete other requirements, including passage of a basic skills test and a pedagogy test, in order to obtain a standard license.

Endorsements: To add an endorsement area, secondary teachers in the District of Columbia may choose from the following options: earn a passing score on a Praxis II content exam, complete a major or major equivalent in the subject area, or meet the coursework requirements outlined in the District's regulations.

Secondary Licensure Deficiencies: Unfortunately, the District of Columbia 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 3-E: Secondary Licensure Deficiencies, it is not considered as part of the score for the Secondary Content Knowledge goal.

Citation

Recommendations for District of Columbia

Require subject-matter testing for all secondary teacher candidates.
The District of Columbia wisely requires subject-matter tests for most secondary teachers but should address any loopholes that undermine this policy (see 3-E: Secondary Licensure Deficiencies analysis and recommendations). This applies to the addition of endorsements as well.

Require subject-matter testing when adding subject-area endorsements.

The District of Columbia 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. Although 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.

State response to our analysis

The District of Columbia was helpful in providing NCTQ with facts that enhanced this analysis. The District of Columbia indicated that in order to add an endorsement area, secondary teachers in the District of Columbia must currently hold a valid Regular II Standard DC teaching credential in another subject area, and then they may choose from the following two options:

  • Option 1- earn a passing score on a Praxis II subject content exam in the sought-after endorsement area and the corresponding Praxis II Principles of Learning & Teaching grade level pedagogy exam or the corresponding subject area pedagogy exam or;
  • Option 2- earn passing scores for a comparable subject content exam required in another state where the teacher also holds an equivalent and valid full teaching credential and present passing scores for a comparable pedagogy exam required in the same state. If the other issuing state does not require a pedagogy exam for licensure then the secondary teacher must earn a passing score on the corresponding Praxis II Principles of Learning and Teaching grade level pedagogy exam or the corresponding subject area pedagogy exam.

In addition, the District noted that for subject areas where no exam is available or adopted, secondary teachers must hold a completed degree with a major in the subject area of the added endorsement and earn passing scores on the Praxis II Principles of Learning and Teaching grade-level pedagogy exam or the corresponding subject-area pedagogy exam.

With regard to the District's general science endorsement the District indicated that it has multiple science subject areas for the specific disciplines to include General Science, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. The General Science credential is designed for use in the middle grades through grade 9 where the science curriculum is focused on earth science and physical science topics.

Last word

The District of Columbia may intend that its general sciences certification is designed for use in the middle grades through grade nine, but the District's regulations clearly state that the license is for grades 7 through 12.

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 http://www.nctq.org/p/publications/docs/NCTQ_All_Purpose_Science_Teacher.pdf; 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; 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
http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED509656.pdf; 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.