Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education


Date of this Version

Spring 4-2019


Lewis, E.B., Lucas, L., Tankersley, A., & Hasseler, L. (2019). Why domain-specific science knowledge matters in teacher certification: Focusing on evidence for effective science teaching. University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


Informational brochure on science teacher certification and subject matter knowledge expertise produced for school administrators, teacher educators, and other stake holders.


The landscape of teacher preparation is complex. From a research perspective, how to prepare teachers presents as a multilevel, multivariable puzzle. For decades, federal and state policymakers, educational researchers, and administrators, along with teacher education institutions, school districts, and other stakeholders have tried to determine and measure the key malleable factors that result in effective teaching (NRC, 2010).

Periodically, state departments of education review secondary science teaching endorsement policy guidelines. As revisions occur, teacher educators in higher education and district administrators need to engage in a multidisciplinary discussion about:

1. the ways in which strong domain-specific science content knowledge contributes to better opportunities for students to learn science,

2. why robust secondary teacher certification standards are vital for achieving not only K-12 scientific literacy, but also better preparation of career and college-ready students, and

3. the problems caused by underprepared secondary science teachers who have only minimal, introductory-level college science coursework via general science endorsements.

A recent study by Nixon, et al. (2017) showed that only about one-third of science teachers in their first five years are assigned to teach in-field. They also reported that about 20% of teaching assignments were entirely out-of-field and about 43% of assignments were some combination of in-field and out-of-field.

While each state in the U.S. regulates its own science teacher certification, in the past science education researchers have not produced sufficient research that sets a minimum amount of science coursework, or mastery levels, for teachers. Thus, problematically, even when minimal subject matter knowledge (SMK) state certification requirements have been met, teachers may still hold resistant misconceptions. Determining teachers’ minimum amount of science SMK is challenging as science is multidisciplinary. A limitation of other studies is that only the number of subject area courses and credit hours have been used without using the associated GPA to try to determine SMK mastery (NRC, 2010). Thus, studies that describe the relationship between teachers’ SMK and reformed-based teaching practices are essential to improving science education. In a four-year, multi-method study, we investigated beginning science teachers’ SMK, science misconceptions, and instructional practices of undergraduate and master’s level science teacher graduates (Lewis et al., 2019). Teachers’ SMK was examined by analyzing Misconceptions-Oriented Standards-Based Assessment Resources for Teachers (MOSART) test scores and transcripts. Science lessons were coded and analyzed science lessons using the EQUIP instrument (Marshall, Horton, Smart, & Llewellyn, 2008).