Recruit and Retain: The Future of Education

Teacher Preparation Pathways for Science

Science teachers work under state licenses. They hold teaching endorsements which delineate the grade levels and science subjects they are qualified to teach. Available endorsements vary by state. Most states have multiple science endorsements. Secondary teachers may be endorsed in one or more specific science disciplines; biology, chemistry, physics, and earth/ space science are common.

Some science teachers have generalist or broad field endorsement. Endorsements often cover grades six or seven through grade twelve. Some states have a middle grades science endorsement. Standards for middle grade endorsement may be significantly different.

Science Teacher Preparation Overview

The minimum degree level is the bachelor's degree. Prospective teachers must meet requirements set at the state level. The total program, including science and professional education coursework, can often be completed in four-years. Some science programs take longer. Some students complete planned five-year programs and come away with a bachelor's and a master's; the degrees granted might be a B.S. and an M.S.Ed.

Programs are typically content-heavy. They include some professional preparation that is specific to the teaching field and some that has broader application. Typical professional education courses include educational psychology, foundations of secondary education, student assessment, and curriculum differentiation for special needs. Some states require literacy coursework of all core teachers.

Some people make the decision to become science teachers after already earning a bachelor's degree. Degreed professionals may have different options for completing teacher certification requirements, some nontraditional. Graduates who hold degrees in science fields are sometimes accepted into alternative programs which put them out into the field at an earlier stage. Many of these programs are state-approved but not nationally accredited as educator preparation programs. An individual who had a strong science background but whose degree was in another field could, in some cases, be accepted into an alternative program. Requirements vary by state and program.

Achieving Professional Status

Prospective teachers multiple assessments, generally beginning with a test of academic proficiency. They usually take one or more subject tests, administered by either Pearson Education or ETS. Alternative students are expected to have already mastered the content; they take their assessments at an earlier stage. Teacher candidates may at some need to take a general pedagogy or professional knowledge test appropriate to their grade range (e.g. grades 7-12).

In many places, students complete a portfolio-based assessment as part of student teaching. Individuals who complete an internship or mentored teaching experience en lieu of student teaching will meet the requirement, if mandated, within the context of beginning teaching. In some cases, individuals who are teaching while fulfilling requirements will be supported and evaluated under a state induction plan. Many states have a tiered system, with positive evaluation being part of the process for moving up in status (and even remaining in the field).

Nationally Recognized and Accredited Preparation Programs

The National Science Teachers Association is considered the national standard setter, but this does not mean that all states base their standards on the NSTA. CAEP-accredited science programs meet NSTA standards; they may be described as NSTA-recognized. Different states place a different level of importance on CAEP accreditation.

According to the National Science Teachers Association, the knowledge base includes content knowledge, content pedagogy, creation of learning environments, impact on student learning, safety, and professional knowledge and skill.

Pre-service standards describe the proficiencies that programs will need to develop in their students (

Accredited programs may fall into any of the following categories: single field, dual field, broad field, and generalist. NSTA standards allow programs to prescribe a science content curriculum or review transcripts and determine that requirements have been met; the former path is the typical one for undergraduate science education majors.

NSTA characterizes ‘single field’ science teachers as typically having a major in the field but allows for standards to be demonstrated through content analysis. Content analysis must show the content area core along with advanced and supportive competencies in the discipline. (Supportive competencies may include math and science.)

Prospective teachers who complete dual programs typically have less than a major in each of the two disciplines. Competency may be demonstrated by a year of introductory coursework and 16 semester hours of advanced coursework in each of the two disciplines. It can be met through content analysis that demonstrates that the core, advanced, and supportive competencies have been met in each.

A broad field program prepares an educator for certification in at least three disciplines. The student may demonstrate competence on the basis of core, advanced, and supportive competencies in one science discipline and core and supportive competencies in the others. A student can also qualify on the basis of having a major in one field and a year of introductory coursework in the others. A student demonstrating competence under this pathway will need to have "dispersed" upper division coursework.

A generalist program is for general science courses at grades 6-8 or above, and does not qualify teachers to teach specific disciplines such as chemistry.

Programs are designed to align with endorsement standards in the state where they are located and approved.

Prospective teachers can check recognition/ accreditation status on the CAEP website.

Additional State Approved Options

States approved educator preparation programs may utilize very different standards. Some describe the science curriculum and professional educator curriculum in a good deal of detail.

Standards for adding an endorsement may be different than those for initial certification. Many states make it relatively easy to add endorsements and expand one’s teaching field.

Middle School and Elementary Preparation

The National Science Teachers Association has described a separate set of content competencies for middle school science teachers and elementary science specialists. Middle school science teachers are expected to meet a specific set of competency requirements in biology, physical science, and earth/space science as well as a set of interdisciplinary competencies.