Elementary Teacher Preparation in
Mathematics: Alaska

2013 Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy

Goal

The state should ensure that new elementary teachers have sufficient knowledge of the mathematics content taught in elementary grades.

Meets a small part
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2013). Elementary Teacher Preparation in Mathematics: Alaska results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/AK-Elementary-Teacher-Preparation-in-Mathematics-20

Analysis of Alaska's policies

Alaska requires that all new elementary teachers pass a general subject-matter test, the Praxis II, but not until they have taught for three years. This commercial test lacks a specific mathematics subscore, so one can fail the mathematics portion and still pass the test. Further, while this test does cover important elementary school-level content, it barely evaluates candidates' knowledge beyond an elementary school level, does not challenge their understanding of underlying concepts and does not require candidates to apply knowledge in nonroutine, multistep procedures.

Alaska does not specify coursework requirements regarding mathematics content. The state relies on NCATE/CAEP standards, suggesting that it uses Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI) standards for approving its elementary programs. ACEI standards address content in mathematics foundations, but these standards lack the specificity needed to ensure that teacher preparation programs deliver other mathematics content of appropriate breadth and depth to elementary teacher candidates. 

Citation

Recommendations for Alaska

Require teacher candidates to pass a rigorous mathematics assessment as a condition of initial licensure.

Alaska should assess mathematics content with a rigorous assessment tool, such as the test required in Massachusetts that evaluates mathematics knowledge beyond an elementary school level and challenges candidates' understanding of underlying mathematics concepts. Such a test could also be used to allow candidates to test out of coursework requirements. Teacher candidates who lack minimum mathematics knowledge should not be eligible for licensure.  

Require teacher preparation programs to provide mathematics content specifically geared to the needs of elementary teachers.

Alaska must ensure that new teachers are prepared to teach the mathematics content required by college and career-readiness standards. Although ACEI standards require some knowledge in key areas of mathematics, Alaska should require teacher preparation programs to provide mathematics content specifically geared to the needs of elementary teachers. This includes specific coursework in foundations and algebra and geometry, with some statistics coursework.  

State response to our analysis

Alaska asserted that approved elementary education programs require all candidates to pass the Praxis I exam, which measures reading, writing and mathematics, and to complete general education requirements for proficiency in math. Candidates must also pass additional mathematics foundations and pedagogy coursework required for completion of the programs.

The state included a statement from the University of Alaska that reiterated these points and added that a grade of C or better is required for the additional math foundations and pedagogy coursework. 


Last word

The Praxis I assessment is a basic skills test. It is not intended to be a licensing test but rather an assessment to be used at the point of admission into a teacher preparation program (see Goal 1-A). Such tests generally assess middle school-level skills. To ensure elementary teachers' mathematics knowledge—which includes the critical areas of numbers and operations; algebra; and, to a lesser degree, data analysis and probability—Alaska should require a rigorous math test, such as the one required in Massachusetts, which challenges candidates' understanding of underlying mathematics concepts.

How we graded


Research rationale

Required math coursework should be tailored in both design and delivery to the unique needs of the elementary teacher.

Aspiring elementary teachers must begin to acquire a deep conceptual knowledge of the mathematics that they will teach, moving well beyond mere procedural understanding. Their training should focus on the critical areas of numbers and operations; algebra; geometry and, to a lesser degree, data analysis and probability.

To ensure that elementary teachers are well trained to teach the essential subject of mathematics, states must require teacher preparation programs to cover these four areas in coursework that it specially designed for prospective elementary teachers. Leading mathematicians and math educators have found that elementary teachers are not well served by courses designed for a general audience and that methods courses also do not provide sufficient preparation. According to Dr. Roger Howe, a mathematician at Yale University: "Future teachers do not need so much to learn more mathematics, as to reshape what they already know."

Most states' policies do not require preparation in mathematics of appropriate breadth and depth and specific to the needs of the elementary teacher. NCTQ's reports on teacher preparation, beginning with No Common Denominator: The Preparation of Elementary Teachers in Mathematics by America's Education Schools in 2008 and continuing through the Teacher Prep Review in 2013 have consistently found few teacher preparation programs across the country providing high-quality preparation in mathematics. Whether through standards or coursework requirements, states must ensure that their preparation programs graduate only teacher candidates who are well prepared to teach mathematics.

Many state tests offer no assurance that teachers are prepared to teach mathematics.

An increasing number of states require passage of a mathematics subtest as a condition of licensure., but many states still rely on subject-matter tests that include some items (or even a whole section) on mathematics instruction. However, since subject-specific passing scores are not required, one need not know much mathematics in order to pass. In fact, one could answer every mathematics question incorrectly and still pass. States need to ensure that it is not possible to pass a licensure test that purportedly covers mathematics without knowing the critical material.

The content of these tests poses another issue: these tests should properly test elementary and middle school content but not at an elementary or middle school level.  Instead, problems should challenge the teacher candidate's understanding of underlying concepts and apply knowledge in nonroutine, multistep procedures.  Unfortunately, this is not the case in the tests currently in use in most states. The test required by Massachusetts remains the standard bearer for a high quality, rigorous assessment for elementary teachers entirely and solely focused on mathematics.

Elementary Teacher Preparation in Mathematics: Supporting Research

For evidence that new teachers are not appropriately prepared to teach mathematics, see NCTQ, No Common Denominator: The Preparation of Elementary Teachers in Mathematics by America's Education Schools (2008) at:http://www.nctq.org/p/publications/docs/nctq_ttmath_fullreport_20090603062928.pdf

For information on the mathematics content elementary teachers need to know, see National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, "Highly Qualified Teachers: A Position of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics," (July 2005). See also Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences, The Mathematical Education of Teachers, Issues in Mathematics, Vol. 11, (American Mathematical Society in cooperation with the Mathematical Association of America, 2001), p. 8.

For evidence on the benefits of math content knowledge on student achievement, see S. Kukla-Acevedo "Do Teacher Characteristics Matter? New Results on the Effects of Teacher Preparation on Student Achievement." Economics of Education Review, Volume 28, 2009, pp. 49-57; H. Hill, B. Rowan and D. Ball "Effects of Teachers' Mathematical Knowledge for Teaching on Student Achievement," American Educational Research Journal, Volume 42, No. 2, Summer 2005, pp. 371-406.

For information on where states set passing scores on elementary level content tests for teacher licensing across the U.S., see chart on p. 13 of NCTQ "Recommendations for the Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Removing the Roadblocks: How Federal Policy Can Cultivate Effective Teachers," (2011).