Subject Matter Requirements (SMR) in Agriculture and the Need to Update

By: Dr. Lynn Martindale, UC Davis

To a majority of agricultural teachers, Subject Matter Requirements (SMRs) in agriculture are foreign. But in reality, all Single Subject Agriculture (SSA) credentialed teachers have all been exposed and deemed competent in the SMRs.  If you did not go through an agricultural education program at a university, you may have had to take the California Subject Examination for Teachers (CSET) in agriculture you are very familiar with SMRs for all six domains. Currently SMR are made up of six domains: 

  1. Plant and Soil Science 
  2. Ornamental Horticulture 
  3. Animal Science 
  4. Environmental Science and Natural Resource Management 
  5. Agricultural Business and Economics; 
  6. Agricultural Systems Technology (Appendix C).   

SSA credentialed teachers must have demonstrated competence in all six domains to be authorized to teach agriculture. Competency in SMRs may be accomplished in two ways: 

1. By completing two to three courses in each of the six domains of agriculture in university waivered program

2. By passing the Commission approved CSET in Agriculture

What are SMRs?

“Subject Matter Requirements (SMRs) were drafted by subject matter advisory panels, reviewed by independent panels for alignment with the applicable student content standards, guidelines, or curriculum frameworks and for potential bias; evaluated by California educators statewide; and finalized by the panel”. (CCTC Commission Meeting-Jan-Feb 2006

In the early 1990’s, the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) developed and adopted standards for subject matter preparation programs (university programs) needed by beginning teachers (CCTC Commission Meeting-Jan-Feb 2006). In 2004, the CTC identified an advisory committee to update the SMRs in Phase III, which included agriculture. The agricultural education committee was made up of seven representatives from four of the five universities credentialing agricultural teachers in California, three high school teachers and one junior high school teacher (University representatives – Glen Casey and Bob Flores, Cal Poly, SLO; Ann DeLay, Fresno State; Lisa Leonardo PhD student, Lynn Martindale and Cary Trexler, UC Davis; and Michael Spiess, Chico State; high school teachers – Mike Albiani, Larry Crabtree, and Hugh Mooney and junior high teacher Richard Herrera).

Why are agriculture SMRs important?

SMRs are what the universities base their undergraduate coursework on to obtain a waiver in a particular program area. SMRs in agriculture assure students attending Cal Poly, Pomona, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, Fresno State, UC Davis, or Chico State receive a similar education when obtaining an undergraduate degree leading to an agricultural credential. If a student majoring in another area of agriculture at a university decides they want to become an agricultural teacher, the student must demonstrate competency through coursework or by passing the CSET in agriculture.   

In addition to serving as guidelines for university undergraduate programs in agricultural education, the SMRs also serve as guidelines for agriculture high school pathways standards.  The California Career Technical Education Model Curriculum Standards in Agricultural and Natural Resources were updated in 2016. The updated standards included a new pathway, increasing from six to seven pathways which include: Agricultural Business, Agricultural Mechanics, Agriscience (newly added), Animal Science, Forestry & Natural Resources, Ornamental Horticulture, and Plant and Soil Science (CTE Model Curriculum Standard). 

With the addition of a new pathway, the SMRs no longer align. Although Agriscience has been taught in high school agriculture departments across the state since 1986, when the A-G Ag Biology courses were adopted, this new course met both high school science graduation requirements and university entrance requirements. Agriculture having A-G courses was a game changer in the 90’s when the shift was to “all academic, all the time”. 

In 2019, there are 283 agricultural teachers. 29% of our teaching population is teaching 16,229 students in A-G Ag Biology or the UCCI Biology and Sustainable Agriculture and 194 agricultural teachers, 20% of our teaching population, is teaching 9,733 students in Ag Chemistry or UCCI Chemistry & Agriscience (University of California Curriculum Integration) aligned with NGSS standards, meeting both high school graduation requirements and university entrance requirements. 

Agricultural Education Majors and SSA credentialed teachers, are not required by the SMR to have taken university courses to have an in-depth understanding of either biology or chemistry.  Some teachers have taken the CSETs in Biology or Chemistry to make them “highly qualified” to teach these courses. There is some concern that high school students taking these agriculture courses in biology and chemistry are not being challenged by the rigor of the course and relevancy of agriculture added to the course. Thus, these students are missing out on two things, preparation for college level work in biology and chemistry, but also an understanding of how agriculture plays an integral part in both biology and chemistry. Ultimately, the question circles back to the course work required to obtain an SSA credential and if the universities are adequately preparing the SSA credentialed teachers. According to the current SMRs, there is no need to have any further understanding of biology or chemistry.

So, what is next?

All five universities would like to see an update of the SMRs. Knowing they will not be updated again for 15-20 years, what should they include?  Should they include more science courses in biology and chemistry? Should the SMRs include Food Science courses? If these courses are included what should be reduced? We cannot just increase undergraduate courses without taking something away.  

Agriculture Specialist Credential

The SMRs do not affect the Agricultural Specialist Credential. There is no test to meet the requirements of the Agricultural Specialist Credential, it can only be obtained via university course work. The Agricultural Specialist Credential is a California specific credential and cannot be obtained by attending an out of state university.  


Appendix C-Subject Matter Requirements and Program Standards for Single Subject Matter Programs (2019).  Retrieved from

CCTC Commission Meeting: January-February 2006—Agenda.  (n.d.). Retrieved from

CTE Model Curriculum Standards. (n.d.).  Retrieved from http://www/cde/ca/gov/ci/ct/sf/ctemcstancdards.asp.

University of California Curriculum Integration. (n.d.). Retrieved from

For more information about the California Agricultural Teachers’ Association, visit

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