Elementary Teacher Preparation Policy
The state should ensure that new elementary teachers have sufficient knowledge of the mathematics content taught in elementary grades. This goal was consistent between 2015 and 2017.
Mathematics Test Requirements: California requires all elementary teacher candidates to pass the California Subject Examination for Teachers (CSET), a Multiple Subjects test. Although the CSET's mathematics content is more rigorous than the Praxis II test that most states use, 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 it may be possible to answer many mathematics questions incorrectly and still pass the test.
Further, California's testing standards address content in mathematics foundations, but although they outline areas such as algebra, geometry and data analysis, the standards are not specifically geared to meet the needs of elementary teachers.
CSET Test Requirements www.cset.nesinc.com
Require teacher candidates to pass a rigorous mathematics assessment.
Although California is on the right track in requiring an elementary assessment with subtests, the state's effort falls short because it combines math with other subjects and does not report a specific subscore for math. California should strengthen its policy by testing mathematics content with a rigorous assessment tool, such as the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure (MTEL) mathematics test, which 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. To help ensure that all students are taught by a teacher who has demonstrated adequate mathematics content knowledge, teacher candidates who lack this knowledge should not be eligible for licensure.
California declined to respond to NCTQ's analyses.
2B: Teaching Elementary Mathematics
Required math coursework should be tailored in both design and delivery to the unique needs of the elementary teacher. Aspiring elementary teachers must 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 is 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."
States' policies should require preparation in mathematics of appropriate breadth and depth and specific to the needs of the elementary teacher. Reports by NCTQ on teacher preparation, beginning with No Common Denominator: The Preparation of Elementary Teachers in Mathematics by America's Education Schools (2008) and continuing through the Teacher Prep Review, have consistently found few elementary 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, in some cases 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 content but not at an elementary level. Instead, problems should challenge the teacher candidate's understanding of underlying concepts and apply knowledge in nonroutine, multistep procedures. The MTEL test required by both Massachusetts and North Carolina remains the standard bearer for a high quality, rigorous assessment for elementary teachers entirely and solely focused on mathematics.