Secondary Licensure Deficiencies: District of
Columbia

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.

Does not meet

Analysis of District of Columbia's policies

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

Science Endorsement Requirements: The District offers a general science certification for secondary teachers. Candidates must pass the Praxis II General Science test. Teachers with this license are not limited to teaching general science but rather can teach any of the topical areas.

Social Studies Endorsement Requirements: The District requires its general social studies candidates to pass the Praxis II Social Studies: Content Knowledge test. Teachers with this license are not limited to teaching general social studies but rather can teach any of the topical areas.

Citation

Recommendations for District of Columbia

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—the District of Columbia is not ensuring that secondary teachers of these subjects possess adequate subject-specific content knowledge. The District'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 chemistry to high school students.

State response to our analysis

The District of Columbia stated that the General Science credential does not carry the same loophole allowance. Teachers with this license are limited to teaching general science topical areas. According to the District, this 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. For all other science areas, secondary teachers must hold the specific subject area credential to match the teaching assignment (i.e., Biology, Chemistry, and Physics subject matter content). In addition, the District noted that the general science credential placement for middle school science through grade 9 follows the highly qualified teacher subject/licensure alignment as well as the curriculum scope and sequence of science courses adopted by the largest district, the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS).

The District of Columbia also indicated that under the former No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), the District gave specific guidance under the Highly Qualified Teacher (HQT) designation, on the appropriate educator license that matches the teaching assignment and curriculum framework. There was an assignment chart that local school districts were specifically trained and required to use under the federal mandate to ensure that teachers of record met the HQT requirements for all the subject they taught. This was a mandatory reporting requirement that the state educational agency implemented in fulfillment of NCLB for all districts. The HQT assignment chart was the guide that local school districts used in their staffing and placement operations for teachers.

The District noted that currently there is no HQT reporting requirement under ESSA, and the former NCLB HQT assignment chart information has very recently been taken off the OSSE website. The assignment chart that matches teachers' work assignments to licensure areas remains a part of the licensure unit. The newly modified chart is scheduled to be on the OSSE website by October 1, 2017. During the transition from NCLB to ESSA, the P-12 educator credentialing unit still advises districts to follow the former and/or the newly revised teacher-licensure assignment chart for all placement decisions. This recommendation will remain in effect under ESSA, although there is no compliance or mandated federal reporting.

Last word

The District of Columbia may intend that their general sciences certification designed for use in the middle grades through grade 9, but the District's regulations clearly state that the license is for grades 7 through 12.

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