Secondary Licensure Deficiencies: Utah

2017 General Teacher Prep Programs Policy

Goal

The state should ensure that secondary science and social studies teachers know all the subject matter they are licensed to teach. This goal was consistent between 2015 and 2017.

Meets a small part

Analysis of Utah's policies

Although Utah requires that its secondary teacher candidates pass a Praxis II content test to teach any core secondary subjects, the state permits a significant loophole to this important policy by allowing both physical science and general social studies licenses without requiring subject-matter testing for each subject area within these disciplines.

Science Endorsement Requirements: Utah does not offer a general science certification for secondary science teachers. However, the state does offer a physical science endorsement. Candidates are required to pass either the Chemistry or Physics Praxis II content test.

Social Studies Endorsement Requirements:
In Utah, general social studies is called composite social studies. Candidates are required to pass the Praxis II 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. Further, although Utah offers subject-specific endorsements in social studies, such as economics, geography and history, the state requires candidates to pass either the subject-specific Praxis II content test or the general assessment mentioned above.

Citation

Recommendations for Utah

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 physical science certifications—and only requiring general knowledge exams for each—Utah is not ensuring that these secondary teachers possess adequate subject-specific content knowledge. The state's required general social studies assessment combines all subject areas (e.g., history, geography, economics). The state's assessment options for physical science cover either chemistry or physics. Neither test adequately measures subject-matter competence in the area of physical science.

State response to our analysis

Utah recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis.

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 licenses are offered, 3) teachers taking general science tests 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