Frequently Asked Questions

Science Education at ESU

by Robert Cohen

ESU Department of Physics

Note: There is a lot of stuff here. If you don't see your question, try searching for a keyword. It may turn up something that addresses your question.

Picking a major as an undergraduate
  • I want to become a science teacher. Do I major in Secondary Education or the area in which I want to teach?
  • Do I need to major in each area that I want to teach?
    Options for those who already have an undergraduate degree
  • How do I go about getting my teaching certification if I already have a degree?
  • Are there any options that allow me to start teaching right away?
    Certification areas
  • What certification areas do I need to have in order to teach what I want?
  • What is the difference between Earth and Space Science, Environmental Science and Environmental Education?
  • What certification do I need to teach middle school?
  • I already have teaching certification in one area. How do I go about adding another certification area?
  • Why all the changes to the certification requirements?
  • I'd like to get a certification that ESU doesn't offer. What can I do?
  • Are there any special loans and scholarships for teachers?
    Necessary coursework and GPA
  • What courses do I need in order to receive certification in the areas I want to teach?
  • If I already have an undergraduate degree or post-graduate degree, do I really need to take all of those education classes?
  • I am transferring to ESU. Who decides whether my courses will count toward the certification requirements? What about the general university requirements?
  • Is there a minimum GPA I need to satisfy? What is it?
  • If I need a 3.0, will a 2.98 count? How close to the cut-off can I be?
  • What courses count toward the GPA requirement?
  • I've heard different things about the GPA requirement from different people and schools. What's the deal with that?
    Certification exams
  • What is a certification exam?
  • When should I take the certification exams?
  • Which PRAXIS II (content or subject specialty) exam do I take?
  • Do I have to take the Fundamental Subjects: Content Knowledge PRAXIS exam?
  • I want to teach in New Jersey (or another state). Are the requirements any different?
  • I want to get certified in multiple areas. Do I need to take a PRAXIS exam for each area?
  • Is there a minimum score I need to get in my PRAXIS exam?
  • There is no qualifying score for the PRAXIS exam I need to take. What does that mean?
  • Pennsylvania keeps changing the requirements for certification. Do my old PRAXIS test scores still count?
    Getting your certification
  • I've completed the necessary coursework and certifiation exams. How do I go about getting my teaching certification in Pennsylvania?
  • I want to teach in New Jersey (or another state). Are the requirements any different?
    Finding a position
  • I've finally gotten my certification. How do I find a teaching position?
  • What is a typical salary for a first-year teacher?
  • How do I go about getting a teaching position in another state?
  • What problems do beginning teachers typically encounter?
    Other questions
  • For more information see the Pennsylvania Department of Education site. You can also go to their teaching page and click on "Commonly Asked Questions" (see sidebar on left).
  • What can I expect my first year of teaching?" (a publication from the U.S. Department of Education)

  • Picking a major as an undergraduate

    I want to become a science teacher. Do I major in Secondary Education or the area in which I want to teach?

    Technically, you will major in the area in which you will be teaching and you have an adviser from that area who will guide you on the appropriate courses to take within your concentration area. However, you will also be assigned an advisor in the department of Professional and Secondary Education, who will guide you on the appropriate professional education courses to take.

    Do I need to major in each area that I want to teach?

    No. However, if you have fulfilled the requirements for the certification area, you probably have fulfilled the requirements for the associated major as well.

    Options for those who already have an undergraduate degree

    How do I go about getting my teaching certification if I already have a degree?

    If you already have a degree, you don't need to get another one in order to get certified. All you need is to meet the content and pedagogy requirements associated with the certificate you are seeking. Certification is given by Pennsylvania but only upon the recommendation of an approved institution. Each college in Pennsylvania has a different agreement with the state as to what courses are required for recommendation. Consequently, what is required by ESU might be different from what is required by other colleges.

    The content requirements are specified as a list of courses in the certification subject and related areas (see below). These courses make up the bulk of the major courses in the undergraduate program corresponding to the certification you wish to get. For example, for physics, one needs to demonstrate proficiency in the courses listed as part of the undergraduate B.A. degree in physics.

    In addition to the content courses, you also have to take a series of pedagogy (education) courses. There are nine all together plus a semester of student teaching. [note: Don't want to take all those education classes? See below]

    The program you enroll under depends on the number of courses you need and your goal:

    1. Undergraduate Degree: You can enroll in the undergraduate degree program corresponding to the certification you wish to get. Like any other undergraduate, you will have two advisors (see question above) and will need to complete the undergraduate degree requirements, which includes the general education requirements as well as the certification requirements.

      This option is sometimes chosen by those who have a degree in a non-science field and thus lack most of the science courses needed for certification. As a result, many of the courses to be taken are at the undergraduate level and wouldn't count towards a graduate degree.

    2. Masters in Secondary Education: This program is the most popular one for those already possessing a degree in the certification field. The program is mostly education content with a couple of science classes. It is supervised by the secondary education department. You will have only one advisor, i.e., someone in PSED (Professional and Secondary Education). However, since the person who decides whether you have met the content requirements for the certification area will be someone in the content area, it is best to keep in touch with that someone (or someones) from the get-go.

      Although most students choosing this program have already completed the bulk of their science courses before enrolling, students can enter this program without having much science background. The science content is taken at the undergraduate level, so it doesn't count toward the graduate degree. Still, the education coursework does count toward the graduate degree, and that may be desirable in terms of salary scales and such.

      Note: As mentioned above, you don't need to get a degree to get certification. Certificition only requires that you take the courses specified for certification. In some cases, you may have satisfied the requirements for certification but not the degree, in which case you are free to leave with just your certification if that's all you want. In fact, many who choose this option never complete the degree.

      As a graduate student in this program, you have some additional options. In the intern teaching program, after completing a portion of the educational requirements, you get a temporary certificate allowing you to teach while you finish the rest of your coursework. This temporary certificate is called an intern certificate. For more information on the intern certificate, see below. You can, in addition to the intern certification or as a replacement, enroll in the master's program (see the PSED department). You complete some additional coursework and end up with a master's degree along with the certification.

    3. Non-Degree Graduate: Anyone with an undergraduate degree can enroll as a non-degree graduate student. Thus, if you are only interested in the certification and not the degree, you can enroll as a non-degree student and just take the necessary science and education coursework needed for certification. This is an option initially, but it isn't suggested you do this permanently, as you would lack the necessary direction from the PSED and content departments.

    4. M.Ed. in General Science: Since this program is mostly science content with a couple of education classes, this program is not designed for those who don't already possess certification. It is supervised by the science departments and is designed mainly for those who already have certication in science and wish to continue their education in both science and education. Some people complete the M.Ed. in General Science along with, or in place of, the Masters in Secondary Education, but these people already have the content background necessary to take science coursework at the graduate level.

    5. M.S. in Biology or General Science: Since this program is entirely science content, it is not designed for those who don't already possess certification. It is supervised by the science departments and is designed mainly for those who already have a strong science background and wish to continue studying science at the graduate level.

    Are there any options that allow me to start teaching right away?

    There are three options available to those who do not want to (or cannot due to financial reasons) devote a year of your life to education coursework before teaching.

    1. Intern Certificate: One option is to obtain an intern teaching certificate. The requirements for intern certification vary with institution. Some require a summer experience/coursework. At ESU, you are required to complete all of your content coursework, pass all of the required PRAXIS exams and complete the following three pedagogy courses: PSED516 (Learner and the Learning Process), PSED520 (Seminar I) and PSED546 (Teaching of Science in Secondary Schools). Past interns have said that an intern should also take PSED505 (Classroom Management and Discipline Models) before starting an intern position. For more information on ESU's requirements, contact ESU's Professional and Secondary Education department.

      You can, of course, complete more but this are the minimum. There is also a minimum GPA requirement.

      In the intern teaching program, after completing these requirements, you get a temporary certificate (called the intern certificate) allowing you to teach while you finish the rest of your coursework. The intern certificate is good for three years.

      Note: As an intern, you do not get the benefit of having a cooperating teacher who can mentor you and allow you to slowly take on more and more of the teaching responsibilities (which consists of a lot more than just teaching) under their guidance. On the other hand, as an intern, you get to choose what school and position you ultimately end up in (you interview for an intern position the same way you would interview for any other teaching position). So, if you don't mind learning on your own and are prepared for days when nothing seems to work yet you have to make do on your own, the intern avenue may be what you are looking for.

      For more information about Pennsylvania's intern certificate, see the PA Dept of Education's page on the intern teaching program. The relevant legislation is in the Chapter 49 regulations (scroll down to section 91).

      Note: You can, in addition to the intern certification or as a replacement, enroll in the master's program (see the PSED department) so that, with some additional coursework, you'll end up with a master's degree along with the certification.

    2. Another option used to be emergency certification but the information on that has been removed from the PA Department of Education website (as of September 2010). In its place is American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE), but currently that is only good for the subject areas of elementary, secondary English and secondary mathematics. It is only valid for one year.

      It is important to note that the emergency certificate (unlike the intern certificate) is obtained through the school that is hiring you, not ESU. It is up to you to find a school that is willing to fill out the appropriate form and argue that no properly certified applicant was available.

      Note: A similar "emergency certificate" option is available in New Jersey, where schools can provide you with a one-year temporary provisional certificate or a one-year emergency certificate under certain circumstances.

    3. A third option is to teach at a private school. Some schools require their teachers to hold Pennsylvania public school certification. Others do not. You need to check with each school to find what their expectations are. If you do not have a certificate, you can get a Private Academic Certificates (Secondary Teacher) by having an undergraduate degree with at least 18 credits in the subject matter field and either (a) 6 credits of education coursework or (b) one year of successful teaching.

    Certification areas

    What certification areas do I need to have in order to teach what I want?

    The types of certificates that are available in Pennsylvania and the courses that each certificate allows you to teach is governed by the Certification and Staffing Policies and Guidelines (CSPG), published by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Certification/course relationships in other states may vary. What follows describes the certificates available in Pennsylvania. All of these certificates allow you to teach any science course at the middle level (6-9); see CSPG No. 104 (August 1, 2013). For information about Environmental Education, see next question.

    For information about teaching at the middle school, see the question on middle school certification.

    Note: Prior to July 1, 2004, there was a single CSPG for all of the secondary science disciplines (Science Certification and Assignment Scope 7-12). In secondary (grades 7-12) science, there were four basic certification areas: biology, chemistry, physics, and earth and space science. Certification in a particular area permits you to teach that subject, and that subject only (or something similar), in the high school. The only exception was the general science certificate, which permitted you to teach all the science subjects at the middle level (as well as general science in grades 7-12). From September 22, 2003 to October 21, 2003, new/updated CSPGs were presented for public review and comment. The old CSPG is no longer available on the PDE website.

    What is the difference between Earth and Space Science, Environmental Science and Environmental Education?

    All of the secondary certifications listed above allow one to teach a course on Environmental Science, as long as the focus is strictly on science. If the course also looks at the legal and social issues concerning the environment, none of those science certifications may be sufficient.

    To teach such a course, one needs to obtain the K-12 certificate in Environmental Education, which is is K-12 (i.e., elementary and secondary). ESU does not offer that certification. However, a new Pennsylvania regulation allows you to add Environmental Education certification simply by passing the PRAXIS exam in Environmental Education (10830). For more information, see next question.

    The environmental education certificate also qualifies you to teach environmental science in grades 7-12 and "science instruction, adjusted to the students' abilities when below proficient" at the middle level. For more information on the Environmental Education certificate, see CSPG No. 43: Environmental Education.

    Note: Since the Environmental Education certificate is a K-12 certificate, you would normally have to take the "Fundamental Subjects" test (which is required of K-12 certificates, not 7-12). However, if you already have your secondary certificate, you don't need to take the "Fundamental Subjects" test when you add the Environmental Education certficate. You only need the PRAXIS exam in Environmental Education (10830).

    What certification do I need to teach middle school?

    All of the secondary science certificates listed above allow you to teach science down to grade 6 (as of August 1, 2013; see CSPG No. 104).

    Prior to January, 2003, Pennsylvania did not have a middle-level certificate. Those grades were taught by teachers holding secondary certificates or elementary certificates, since certification in elementary education was sufficient in some cases to teach any course at the middle-school level (including science).

    Starting in January 2003, and continuing until December, 2012, Pennsylvania offered middle-level certificates for grades 7-9, in the various content disciplines. Candidates with elementary certification (K-8) were no longer allowed to teach content-specific courses in grades 7-9 but those with secondary certification (7-12) could because all of the secondary science certificates allow the holder to provide "science instruction, adjusted to the students' abilities when below proficient" at the middle level (this is stated in all of the relevant CSPG's, although it isn't clear why the biology guidelines state one can teach any science course at the middle level and then qualifies it for student abilities below proficient). Be aware, however, that some schools may desire a middle school certificate or a secondary science certificate in the subject area.

    For those not holding a secondary science certificate, Pennsylvania offered a middle school certificate (see CSPG No. 54: Middle Level Science Grades 7-9) that qualifies you to teach science courses in grades 7-9 and science only at grade 6. This certificate can only be obtained by passing the Middle School Science Test #10439, with score 144 or better (150 with a 2.8 GPA), but only if you already possessed some other certificate (for mathematics, one needs to pass the Middle Level Math Test #20069, with a score of 151 or better, 158 with a 2.8 GPA).

    Starting September 1, 2013, the 7-9 middle school certificate is no longer obtainable as an add-on certificate via taking the PRAXIS exam as it is being dropped (the new 4-8 middle level certificate cannot be added via exam). According to the new Chapter 49 regulations, to get the new 4-8 middle school certificate, you will have to complete an approved program in middle school certification (grades 4-8) and take the following exams:

    1. The PAPA (Pre-service Academic Performance Assessment); required of all certification areas
    2. The PECT Grades 4-8 (Core Assessment in Pedagogy, English, Language Arts & Social Studies, and Mathematics & Science; ETS test #5152), which consists of three subtests: pedagogy (#5153; passing score = 162), English Language Arts and Social Studies (#5154; passing score = 152) and Mathematics and Science (#5155; passing score = 164). If, after taking the full test, you do not pass one or more of the subtests, you can just take the individual subtest for a reduced fee.
    3. The module/test in your concentration area: English Language Arts (#5156; passing score = 156), Social Studies (#5157; passing score = 150), Mathematics (#5158; passing score = 173) or Science (#5159; passing score = 156).
    Once one middle school certification is obtained in one subject area, you can add other middle school subject areas by taking the appropriate PRAXIS exam in that area.

    I already have teaching certification in one area. How do I go about adding another certification area?

    The process seems to change every ten years or so.

    Currently, you can add certain instructional areas to an existing Instructional certificate by taking, and passing, the corresponding PRAXIS II exam (see which PRAXIS II exam should I take? for more information) and then completing the necessary form within the Teacher Information Management System (TIMS); see here for more information.

    Note: As of August, 2013, people who hold certification in a secondary area are not able to add middle school certification in this way (and, visa-versa, people who hold middle school certification will no longer be able to add secondary certification in this way). However, you can still add additional instructional areas to your certificate as long as new area is at the same instructional level (i.e., secondary or middle). It isn't clear if one would still be able to add a K-12 certificate (like the Environmental Education certificate) but the new regulations do not say you can't. See the FAQ page on the new Chapter 49 regulations (question 7 of "Non-Traditional Programs" section) for more information.

    Note: Before the online TIMS process, the add-on process required the completion of Form 338 G Add-on, along with a copy of your PA Instructional certificate and a copy of the PRAXIS score report (with the qualifying score; the PA Department of Education must be listed as a test recipient) and a money order for $100 (payable to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; this amount may have changed, as prior to July 1 2006 it was $15 and then it went up to $40 until July 2010). [reference]

    Prior to January 2003, the requirements were the same regardless of whether you already held certification in another area or not. That meant that you needed to complete an approved program to add an instructional area.

    Between January 2003 and June 2006, PA had Bridge Certificate Program for people who were already teaching middle school but who did not hold a middle school or secondary certificate in the subject area. It required the teacher to have taught at least 2 years in the content area. In the program, teachers had to obtain 28 "points" to receive their certification. Points were awarded for the following areas:

    The process was broken down into two parts: phase I and phase II. Ten points must have been obtained during phase I and 18 more points must have been obtained during phase II. Since PA teachers are required to have 180 hours of "professional education" or "postsecondary courses" every five years, if you taught for five years you should have already amassed at least 16 points. The reason why this program ended in June 2006 was because by June 30, 2006, all PA teachers were supposed to be fully qualified (according to No Child Left Behind).

    Why all the changes to the certification requirements?

    Many of the regulations in place today trace their evolution to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act. The act required school districts to ensure that all of their teaachers were highly qualified by 2006. Pennsylvania already had a tougher standard in some respects (see Chapter 354, Section 22 of Title 22) but with NCLB school districts couldn't get by with teachers who were teaching outside of their certification area (usually teachers in middle school holding an elementary ed certificate). To address this, PA's approach was to lower the standard of certification so these teachers could get certified.

    The first step toward this happened on November 14, 2002, when the Pennsylvania State Board of Education passed a resolution that allowed all current holders of teaching certificates to add secondary or middle-level certificates simply by passing the corresponding PRAXIS exam (the exact wording was "Resolved: That certified teachers in Pennsylvania might add instructional certificate areas by passing content area tests in the areas to be certified").

    Unfortunately, the content area tests proved to be very difficult for those teaching in middle school. Consequently, this regulation was clarified in a January 10, 2003, memorandum that introduced the idea of "middle-level" certification and stated that to add middle-level science, you must pass the PRAXIS Middle School Science Test #10439 and to add middle-level math, you must pass the PRAXIS Middle School Math Test #20069. A second memorandum (dated January 14, 2003) stated that secondary math and science areas (physics, chemistry, biology, general science and earth/space science) can be added by taking the corresponding PRAXIS exam. For more information on the PRAXIS exams (such as cut-off scores, test numbers, etc.), see below.

    In 2008, Pennsylvania instituted new regulations (see Chapter 49), which go into effect in January 2013. One piece of this was the creation of a new middle school certification program for grades 4-8. Another piece requires cousrework in "adaptations and accommodations" and "English Language Learners" (ELL).

    I'd like to get a certification that ESU doesn't offer. What can I do?

    One option is to go to seek the certification through coursework at another college or university in Pennsylvania. Check out the Pennsylvania Department of Education's list of approved certification programs.

    If you already have certification in one area, you may be able to add the additional certification via a PRAXIS exam. See above.

    Are there any special loans and scholarships for teachers?

    Yes, especially for science teachers. I hope to put links to some when I have some time. There are also opportunities for loan forgiveness. One such opportunity is the Stafford Loan Forgiveness Program for Teachers.

    Necessary coursework and GPA

    What courses do I need in order to receive certification in the areas I want to teach?

    For all students, the courses required for certification are the same courses as those listed in the undergraduate catalog for the major. The coursework falls into two areas: content coursework and pedagogy coursework.

    Note: In addition to the pedagogy and content courses listed below, the state also requires undergraduates* two math courses and two English courses (one composition and one literature; see Memorandum 04,ch states that you must have "3 semester hours of English/American literature"; according to PDE, the literature must have an American/English focus, so French literature, for example, would not be acceptable). As of September 1, 2009, applicants have the option of demonstrating competency and fulfilling the Mathematics and/or English requirements by taking an exam or AP course even when no formal credit is awarded by ESU. For example, if you have taken and passed calculus, you may not need to take a second math course if you can demonstrate competency in a lower-level math course (like precalc) via an exam. *According to the new School Code adopted June 30, 2011, post-bacc candidates do need to meet the requirements of 6 credits of math and 6 credits of English for their certification program (see end of the August 5, 2011 weekly update from PDE; a definition of "post-bacc candidate" has not been provided).

    The pedagogy coursework consist of seven courses in education. The names of the courses depend on whether you are an undergraduate or graduate student.

    For those getting certified prior to December of 2012, the following courses are required:
    UndergraduateGraduate
    PSED161 Foundations of Education PSED510 The Teacher and the School Community
    PSED242 Educational Psychology PSED516 The Learner and the Learning Process
    MCOM242 Educational Communications MCOM520 Selection and Utilization of Instructional Media
    REED321 Teaching of Reading in the Secondary School REED527 Reading in the Content Area
    PSED420 Seminar in Secondary Education I PSED520 Seminar in Secondary Education I
    PSED421 Seminar in Secondary Education II PSED521 Seminar in Secondary Education II
    PSED446 Teaching of Science in Secondary Schools PSED546 Teaching of Science in Secondary Schools

    For those getting certified after December of 2012, the following courses are required:
    UndergraduateGraduate
    PSED150 Introduction to Teaching All Students PSED510 The Teacher and the School Community
    PSED524 Teaching ELLs in the Diverse Classroom Setting
    PSED250 The Psychology of Learners in Diverse Communities PSED516 The Learner and the Learning Process
    REED350 Teaching Reading to Communities of Diverse Learners REED528 Teaching Content Area Reading to Diverse Learners
    SPED350 Assessment of Student Learning and Behavior SPED550 Nature and Needs of Exceptional Individuals
    SPED551 Inclusionary Practices
    PSED420 Seminar in Secondary Education I: Instructional Practice PSED520 Seminar in Secondary Education I
    PSED421 Seminar in Secondary Education II: Effective Practices for Students in Diverse Learning Communities PSED521 Seminar in Secondary Education II
    PSED446 Teaching of Science in Secondary Schools PSED546 Teaching of Science in Secondary Schools
    The change in course sequence is a consequence of new regulations (see Chapter 49) instituted by Pennsylvania (in 2008), which go into effect in January 2013. One piece of this regulation is the requirement of coursework in "adaptations and accommodations" and "English Language Learners" (ELL). Another piece was the creation of a new middle school certification program for grades 4-8.

    The content coursework consist of the science courses and are usually somewhat equivalent to the coursework required for a B.A. in the content area. For more information, see the appropriate sections of the ESU catalog (2009-2010) under the following program names:

    For each certification area you are interested in, make sure you see the contact person in that area (for undergraduates, this would be your advisor):
    Note: For transfers and those already possessing a degree, the three people listed here are the ones who handle the evaluation of your previous transcripts to determine the extent to which you have met the criteria for certification and, if not, which coursework still needs to be completed.

    If I already have an undergraduate degree or post-graduate degree, do I really need to take all of those education classes?

    Many people who already hold an undergraduate degree in the content area prefer to go directly into teaching without the education coursework. This is not considered to be a viable option because we feel the education classes provide the candidates with crucial experiences. It has been our experience that those who do not complete the coursework are not adequately prepared. See above for some options.

    However, faster-track options may be available elsewhere. When choosing a program, consider the following recommendations listed in A Difficult Balance: Incentives and Quality Control in Alternative Certification Programs.

    I am transferring to ESU. Who decides whether my courses will count toward the certification requirements? What about the general university requirements?

    The faculty in the certification area (e.g., Biology, Chemistry, etc.) decide what counts toward the particular certification requirements. The PSED faculty, however, make decisions on the education and general education courses.

    Is there a minimum GPA I need to satisfy? What is it?

    Yes, there is a minimum GPA you need to satisfy. There is one GPA requirement to get into the program (i.e., get screened in) and another GPA requirement to exit the program (i.e., obtain certification).

    If I need a 3.0, will a 2.98 count? How close to the cut-off can I be?

    According to PA regulations (see weekly email August 20, 2012), the cut-off is 3.0 and no rounding is allowed. By that, they mean no rounding beyond that which one's registration system already rounds. Consequently, if you are at a school that only provides the tenth place, you only need to get a 2.95 (in which case the school would see it as a 3.0). If you are at a school that provides GPA to the hundredth place (like ESU had up until 2011), you need to get a 2.995 (in which case the school would see it as a 3.00). And, if you are at ESU, which currently uses a system that rounds to the thousandth place, you need to get a 2.9995.

    What courses count toward the GPA requirement?

    I've heard different things about the GPA requirement from different people and schools. What's the deal with that?

    These regulations are stipulated by the state so ESU has only a little bit of leeway in regard to minimum grade point averages. Still, there is some ambiguity about the state regulations and so other institutions in Pennsylvania may have slightly different interpretations of the Pennsylvania regulations. In addition, to clarify the regulation, Pennsylvania has put out several memoranda since the original regulation. Consequently, the differences may just be due to the time you happened to inquire about the requirement and chances are the answers would be roughly the same if you asked today.

    As a reference, Memorandum 07 states that "Pennsylvania currently requires an overall GPA requirement of a 3.0 for entry...and exit" so this is the current interpretation followed by ESU.

    To provide some context and history, the legislation governing certification in Pennsylvania (known as Chapter 354; see section 24) specifies that candidates must maintain the following "overall" GPA "in each certificate area":

    Since this section is about obtaining certification, I assume it applies to exit criteria. There are two ways to interpret the meaning of "in each certificate area." One way is to interpret it to mean that each certificate area needs to maintain an overall GPA of 3.0. Another way is to interpret it to mean that one needs to maintain a GPA of 3.0 in the courses that make up each certificate area. ESU has followed the former interpretation.

    Part of the problem associated with the latter interpretation is that the language is applied to two sets of candidates. One set consists of those "who plan to teach" in an academic discipline. The other set consists of those "who plan to serve" in a certificate category. Within this section, the latter are described as "noninstructional". Consequently, the natural interpretation is to assume that the language used for "certificate categories" does not apply to those seeking secondary science certification. Instead, "certificate area" is interpreted to mean "academic discipline" (since those two phrases seem to be used interchangeably), in keeping with the emphasis later in this same section that "academic content area courses" are to be the same set of core and elective courses in the "bachelor of arts or bachelor of science major academic area the candidates intend to teach."

    The section applying to entrance criteria is in section 31. In this section, there is quite a bit about other options, e.g., a 2.8 GPA (for undergraduates) is okay if a certain score is obtained on the SAT (1050 overall, minimum of 500 on verbal and math portions) or Praxis I exams (still to be determined?).

    In that section, it seems clear that the same GPA requirements are to be applied to those entering a program. It is also clear that the GPA is the overall GPA (see comments on Chapter 354). Since chapter 354 was passed, PDE has issued several memoranda that are meant to clarify the legislation (see their list of memorandums. Memorandum 7 (May 19, 2003) specified a 3.0 for both entry and exit (there was a three-year transition period from 2003-2005 where the GPA requirement was slowly raised from 2.6 to 3.0). Individuals with an advanced degree can use the GPA corresponding to their advanced degree. Memorandum 10 (Jan 24, 2006) states that if you don't meet the minimum as an undergraduate, you can meet the minimum by taking 9 credits of master's level work and obtain a 3.0 in that work. Relative to entrance criteria, PDE has issued two memoranda. According to PDE memorandum-01, a candidate entering a program must have the above GPA on the "accumulation of 48 credit hours or the full time equivalent of college level study", which seems to imply an overall GPA (as inferred above). However, according to PDE memorandum-02, for candidates entering a program, "the inclusion of elective and transcripted courses is at the discretion of the institution." This seems to imply that it is the content GPA but an institution may choose to also apply the minimum to the overall GPA.

    Certification exams

    What is a certification exam?

    A certification exam is an exam one must pass in order to receive your teacher certification.

    In general, there are two types: a general series of exams covering general knowledge that all teachers must pass and a content-specific exam that only teachers in your subject area need to pass. For the latter, see the information below about the PRAXIS II (content or subject specialty) exams.

    As for the general knowledge tests, starting April 2, 2012, undergraduate candidates (as of July 1, 2011, graduate students do not need to take PPSTs or PAPA, and as of September 1, 2013, students who get a total of 1550 on the SAT, prior to matriculating and with no individual part less than 500 - all parts taken the same day) must take the PAPA (Pre-service Academic Performance Assessment) test, which has 3 modules:

    1. Reading (passing score = 220)
    2. Math (passing score = 220)
    3. Writing (passing score = 220)
    PPST tests taken before April 2, 2012, will still count (see here). See the Pennsylvania Educator Certification Tests (PECT) website for information about the tests and to register.

    Note: There is an option for those who do not meet the passing score in one or more of the three areas. To pass, you must have total composite score of at least 686. In addition, you must meet the following minimum scores for the three areas: reading (193), mathematics (197) and writing (192).

    If you took any tests prior to April 2, 2012, see the question about what to do about changes. For reference, I provide the following inforamation about past requirements. Prior to April 2, 2012, candidates had to pass the following core battery of three exams (the first test code corresponds to the computer-delivered test; the second test code corresponds to the paper-delivered test):*1,*3,*4

    1. PPST: Reading (test code 10710 or 15710); passing score = 172*5
    2. PPST: Writing (test code 20720 or 25720); passing score = 173*5
    3. PPST: Mathematics (test code 10730 or 15730); passing score = 173*5 (no calculator)
    All three could be taken at the same time via computer by selecting Praxis I Pre-Professional Skills Test: Combined Test (test code 5750); with scores still reported by individual test. These tests were administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) periodically throughout the year. The following notes describe the changes that have occurred over the years.
    *1 Before Jan 22, 2002, an additional exam, the Listening Skills exam*2, was required with a cut-off score of 172.
    *2 Before Sep 1, 2001, there was no cutoff for the Listening Skills exam.
    *3 Before September 1, 2000, the core battery exams consisted of three exams:
    1. General Knowledge
    2. Communication Skills
    3. Pedagogy Knowledge
    *4 If you entered the student teaching portion of the program before September 1, 2003, you are also required to take the Principles of Learning & Teaching: Grades 7-12 (test code 30524; passing score = 167) because before that time the statewide performance evaluation and inventory (based on PDE student teaching guidelines requirements) was not used on all student teachers.
    *5 As of September 15, 2005, candidates can pass with lower scores than those indicated provided the total combined score of all three is at least 521. The mininum in each area is 170 for the Writing and Mathematics exams, and 169 for the Reading exam. Note: Prior to January 1, 2009, the minimum was 171 for the Reading and Mathematics exams (the minimum for Writing remains the same at 170).

    When should I take the certification exams?

    The general knowledge exams are required in order to get admitted into the Teacher Education Program (see screening in process discussed above). Students are typically formally admitted into the Teacher Education program the end of their sophomore year or the beginning of their junior year (prior to that they are considered "pre"-education majors). So, you should probably plan on taking them your second year or so.

    The subject specialty exams are not required until you formally apply for certification. However, it is wise to take them earlier. For example, the earth science exam has a heavy emphasis on geology, so you should probably plan to take that exam immediately following the geomorphology course, if you happen to take that course. In addition, you might find that you don't pass it the first time. Taking it early will give you some time to identify your weaknesses and retake it.

    If you are a graduate student, you might be eligible for intern certification if you pass the praxis exam. That will allow you to accept a choice position if it happens to come up before (or while) you student teach.

    Which PRAXIS II (content or subject specialty) exam do I take?

    The required exam is determined by the state in which you wish to teach. In Pennsylvania, the following exams are required (CDT = computer-delivered test; PDT = paper-delivered test):

    Certification AreaTest titleCDT codePDT codePA qualifying score*7,8)
    Biology*1,5 Biology: Content Knowledge 52350235 147*3,5 (152)
    Chemistry*2 Chemistry: Content Knowledge 52450245 154 (160)
    Earth and Space Science*3 Earth and Space Sciences: Content Knowledge 55710571 157 (162)
    General Science*4 General Science: Content Knowledge 54350435 146 (152)
    Physics*4 Physics: Content Knowledge*5 52650265 140*5 (146)
    Environmental Education Environmental Education n/a0831 156*6 (no standard deviation identified yet)
    Mathematics Mathematics: Content Knowledge 50610061 136

    Note: Information about middle-level certification is discussed in another section.

    Notes: see below if any of these past requirements apply to you.
    *1 Before Nov 1, 1997, the Biology exam was required with a cut-off score of 580
    *2 Before Sep 1, 1998, the Chemistry exam was required with a cut-off score of 500
    *3 Before Sep 1, 1999, the following requirements were in effect
    • The qualifying score for Biology: Content Knowledge, Part I was 144
    • The qualifying score for Biology: Content Knowledge, Part II was 135
    • For Earth and Space Science, the Earth Space Science exam was required with a cut-off score of 570
    *4 Before Sep 1, 2000, the following requirements were in effect
    • For General Science, one could take either the Biology and General Science exam or the Chemistry, Physics and General Science exam; as far as I can tell, the cut-off scores were still waiting final adoption when the tests were replaced
    • For Physics, the Physics exam was required with a cut-off score of 440
    *5 Before Sep 1, 2001, the following requirements were in effect
    • For Physics, the required test was also named Physics: Content Knowledge but it was test code 10261 instead of 10265.
    • For Physics, there was no cut-off score set. It was then changed to 146 and then lowered to 140 (I believe in Jan, 2002)
    • For Biology, there were two tests required: Biology: Content Knowledge, Part I (20231) and Biology: Content Knowledge, Part II (20232), with cut-off scores of 156 and 137, respectively.
    *6 Prior to August 1, 2012, Environmental Education test was 10830, with a cutoff score of 600 (635 for GPA < 3.0), which was effective September 1, 2003.
    *7 Effective October 5, 2009, one can receive certification with as low as a 2.8 grade point average if you have earned the score given in parentheses (one standard error above the regular qualifying score). The value can change as more data is collected (e.g., the chemistry score used to be 161 prior to Jan 1, 2012).
    *8 Effective January 1, 2010, one can receive certification with a lower exam score if your GPA is higher (see GPA - Praxis Chart).

    Note: If you expect to teach in New Jersey, see the question about teaching in New Jersey.

    Do I have to take the Fundamental Subjects: Content Knowledge PRAXIS exam?

    No. Secondary areas (grades 7-12) do not have to take that test. Prior to 2013, all other areas (N-3, K-6 and K-12) did but now only the K-12 programs need to (i.e., Modern Languages and Health/Physical Education).

    I want to teach in New Jersey (or another state). Are the requirements any different?

    Yes. The requirements can vary from state to state in three ways: certification areas, NTE/Praxis Exams, and content background. Some states have a reciprocity agreement that allows teachers in one state to automatically be eligible to teach in another state (see, for example, New York).

    Pennsylvania and New Jersey do not have such an agreement, so the information here will focus on how to teach in New Jersey.
    For other states, see:

    For general information about certification in New Jersey, see the Licensing and Credentials page from the NJ Dept of Education. New licensing regulations, N.J.A.C. 6A:9, were adopted by the New Jersey State Board of Education, effective January 20, 2004. Detailed information can be obtained from Guide to Certification in New Jersey. Note that New Jersey has recently mandated that all public workers in New Jersey (including public school teachers) must live in in New Jersey (within one year of hire).
    According to page 6 of the Educator's Guide, out-of-state residents should apply for certification through the Office of Licensure and Credentials (see page 6 for the address). However, I am aware that people can apply online by going to the license information page and then clicking on "Apply Online" on the left of the screen.

    Note: I have been told by more than one person that NJ is very slow when it comes to processing applications (e.g., 8 weeks means 4 months). I have also been told that some schools won't even look at you if you don't have NJ cert so try to start the process as early as possible. Also, make sure all your material is in exact order according to the website, or they won't even process it. One suggestion is to go to the county office for the school you want to work for and have them check over your credits to make sure you have enough.

    Note:In the past, the initial steps for certification in New Jersey was handled through county offices, which oversee their local districts. So, once a position was obtained, candidates went through the county office or the school district (see appendix B of the Guide to Certification). Now it seems that out-of-state residents should apply through the state office (see page 5).

    Basically, if you complete a teaching training program in Pennsylvania, you are eligible for New Jersey certification as long as you complete the required PRAXIS exams (see below; have the scores sent to the NJ Dept of Education) and have a cumulative GPA of at least 2.75.*3 After you graduate, you need to submit (1) a completed application with notarized Oath of Allegiance, (2) official transcripts from ALL schools attended, (3) a verification of program completion form (completed by ESU), and (4) a certified check or money order for the amount of $190 made out to the Commissioner of Education (check out links here for more info).

    New Jersey has five science certification areas: Biological Science, Earth Science, Chemistry, Physics, and Physical Science. The following information can be obtained from New Jersey's list of NTE/Praxis test requirements. If you are physics or chemistry certified in PA, be sure to read footnote 2 regarding physical science certification. Notes:
    *1 Before Dec 1, 2007, the General Science: Content Knowledge/Part 1 exam was required with a cut-off score of 152. In addition, Biology required Biology: Content Knowledge/Part 2 with a score of 147 and General Science: Content Knolwedge/Part 2 with a score of 142.
    *2 Before Jan 20, 2004, there was not a separate chemistry and physics certification. Instead, there was a single physical science certification. There were also requirements in regard to the number of credits you needed in each area. There no longer appears to be such a requirement. However, many schools still like their chemistry and physics teachers to have Physical Science certification since it gives them more flexibility. To get this, you will need 15 credits in physics and 15 credits in chemistry (as well as pass both the chemistry exam and the physics exam). See Physical Science Standard Certificate document for more information.
    *3 If you graduated on or after September 1, 2004, you can qualify for New Jersey certification with less than the scores listed above as long as your GPA is 3.50 or higher. See GPA/certification requirements for more information.

    I want to get certified in multiple areas. Do I need to take a PRAXIS exam for each area?

    In Pennsylvania, yes. Starting in November, 1996, all people seeking certification must take the appropriate PRAXIS exam for each area. Those who are already certified in multiple areas need not take additional exams unless they are seeking to add a certification area (see above).

    Is there a minimum score I need to get in my PRAXIS exam?

    The minimum qualifying score is set independently by each state. For the PRAXIS I qualifying scores, see the info on PRAXIS I above. For the PRAXIS II (subject) qualifying scores, see the info on PRAXIS II above. Note: In Pennsylvania, the qualifying score is set only after a study of the exam by the state has been completed. Thus, exams that previously had no set qualifying score now have one.

    There is no qualifying score for the PRAXIS exam I need to take. What does that mean?

    When an exam is first introduced, it takes a few years before a qualifying score is set. Until then, no qualifying score is indicated. This means that any score will do as long as you apply for certification before a qualifying score is set. However, for some tests (most notably the middle level tests) the state will not accept the exam until a cut-off score is set.

    According to the PDE, "Applicants must meet the qualifying scores in effect at the time of application, regardless of the score in effect at the time the applicant takes the test." Thus, if a qualifying score is implemented before you apply for certification, then you must meet whatever qualifying score is in effect at the time of application.

    As far as I know, they don't re-check your score if you already have certification. Nor do I think they re-check your score when you apply for Level II certification, but I'm not sure about that.

    Pennsylvania keeps changing the requirements for certification. Do my old PRAXIS test scores still count?

    As long as the test was taken before the change was implemented, the scores should still count up to ten* years after the test was taken. If the test you took is no longer required (e.g., they changed the test), your score will still count if
    1. you took the test before it was officially replaced, and
    2. you achieved a score that is considered passing at the time you apply for certification.

    If the minimum score has been changed, then you must meet the qualifying score in effect at the time you apply for certification. To keep up to date, check out the PRAXIS II Testing Requirements for Pennsylvania put together by ETS.
    * Before May 1, 2008, PRAXIS scores were valid for only five years.

    Getting your certification

    I've completed the necessary coursework and certifiation exams. How do I go about getting my teaching certification in Pennsylvania?

    To obtain your Pennsylvania teacher certification, you need to use the Teacher Information Management System (TIMS) portal. This is a relatively new system so I don't know much about it. The following is from a PDE memo.

    You will need to complete the education information for your institution, so you won't be able to complete the application until you graduate (technically, it is the first day of your graduation month, which is typically May 1st or December 1st).

    Finding a position

    I've finally gotten my certification. How do I find a teaching position?

    I've heard that the best way is via PA REAP, an affiliate of the National School Applications Network. Other common ways are networking (e.g., contacts made via student teaching), job fairs, internet listings (like PA REAP; also see below), and the college career placement office.

    What is a typical salary for a first-year teacher?

    Certification Map has info on average teacher salaries for each state.

    How do I go about getting a teaching position in another state?

    Some states (like New York) have a reciprocity agreement with Pennsylvania, which means that they will recognize your PA certification. However, you may still need to take additional exams if that state requires different exams for certification. For New Jersey, most people find a position first and then pursue certification through the school district. See the question on teaching in another state above.

    What problems do beginning teachers typically encounter?

    Education Week publishes Tips for New Teachers. Public Agenda has pubished three articles on the challenges facing new teachers within their series entitled Lessons Learned: New Teachers Talk About Their Jobs, Challenges and Long-Range Plans.

    What are some resources for beginning teachers?

    New teachers should belong to a professional society, particularly if at a school with few other science teachers or teachers in their subject area. For example, physics teachers are sometimes the only physics teacher in the school. As such, membership in AAPT (American Association of Physics Teachers) is recommended. They don't have a "new teacher" rate, unfortunately. Check out their webpage, even if you don't join.

    Sign up for a email list. For example, there is a committee of AAPT called High School Physics that has an email list that is open to everybody who is interested. See the physics in high schools link on the AAPT home page. Two other email lists recommended by physcis teachers are physhare and tap-l (labs and demos).


    Last updated: December 2013.

    This page maintained by:

    rcohen@po-box.esu.edu