Elementary Teacher Preparation in
Mathematics: California

Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy


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

Meets goal in part
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Elementary Teacher Preparation in Mathematics: California results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/CA-Elementary-Teacher-Preparation-in-Mathematics-6

Analysis of California's policies

California relies on its subject-matter testing requirements as the basis for articulating its requirements for the mathematics content knowledge of elementary teacher candidates.

The state does not specify any coursework requirements regarding mathematics content, but it does require that all new elementary teachers pass the California Subject Examination for Teachers (CSET), a multiple subjects test. The test's standards address content in mathematics foundations, but although they outline such areas as algebra, geometry and data analysis, the standards are not specifically geared to meet the needs of elementary teachers.

The CSET's mathematics content is more rigorous than the Praxis II test most states use, but the CSET still does not ensure that candidates have appropriate mathematics knowledge. The CSET requires passing subscores on all three subtests that comprise the overall test, but the mathematics and science scores are combined, so one can likely answer many mathematics questions incorrectly and still pass the test.


Recommendations for California

Require teacher preparation programs to provide mathematics content specifically geared to the needs of elementary teachers.
Although California's subject-matter test requires some knowledge in key areas of mathematics, the state should require teacher preparation programs to provide mathematics content specifically geared to the needs of elementary teachers. This includes specific coursework in foundations, algebra and geometry, with some statistics. 

Require teacher candidates to pass a rigorous mathematics assessment.
California should require a passing score specifically in math for its content assessments to ensure that teacher candidates have adequate mathematics knowledge and understanding of underlying mathematics concepts. Such a score could be used to allow candidates to test out of coursework requirements. Teacher candidates who lack minimum mathematics knowledge should not be eligible for licensure.

State response to our analysis

California recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. However, the state added that NCTQ's comment that "one can likely answer many mathematics questions incorrectly and still pass the test" is incorrect. It asserted that the scoring rubric is designed to prevent this very scenario. 

Last word

It is important that California has designed its scoring rubric to ensure that candidates have knowledge in each area of its combined subtests. It would be even more helpful to candidates and preparation programs if the state established separate passing scores.  

Research rationale

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:

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 Kukla-Acevedo "Do Teacher Characteristics Matter? New Results on the Effects of Teacher Preparation on Student Achievement." Economics of Education Review, 28 (2009): 49-57; H. Hill, B. Rowan and D. Ball "Effects of Teachers' Mathematical Knowledge for Teaching on Student Achievement," American Educational Research Journal (2005).

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's "Recommendations for the Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Removing the Roadblocks: How Federal Policy Can Cultivate Effective Teachers?" (2011).