Elementary Teacher Preparation in
Mathematics: District of Columbia

2011 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. (2011). Elementary Teacher Preparation in Mathematics: District of Columbia results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/DC-Elementary-Teacher-Preparation-in-Mathematics-6

Analysis of District of Columbia's policies

The District of Columbia relies on national accreditation standards for teacher preparation programs as the basis for articulating its requirements for the mathematics content knowledge of elementary teacher candidates.

The District does not specify any coursework requirements regarding mathematics content. However, the District requires NCATE accreditation, 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. For example, ACEI algebra standards state that teacher candidates should "know, understand and apply algebraic principles," but these standards make little mention of the actual knowledge that might contribute to such understanding.

The District requires that all new elementary teachers pass a general subject-matter test, the Praxis II. This commercial test lacks a specific mathematics subscore, so one can likely 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.

Citation

Recommendations for District of Columbia

Require teacher preparation programs to provide mathematics content specifically geared to the needs of elementary teachers.
Although ACEI standards require some knowledge in key areas of mathematics, the District of Columbia 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.
The District of Columbia 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.  

State response to our analysis

The District of Columbia asserted that in 2000, it adopted the NCATE unit accreditation standards for educator preparation units recognized or seeking recognition under its traditional accreditation pathway. In doing so, the District also adopted the specialty area standards of organizations recognized by NCATE, which include ACEI, for approval of programs in elementary education. For units accredited under the Post-Baccalaureate Non-Degree accreditation and program approval pathway, elementary education programs are designed based on the subject-area standards for elementary education, which are adapted from the ACEI national standards for elementary education.  

The District contended that although not recognized as acceptable or adequate by NCTQ, and perhaps not addressing the specific items outlined in the above analysis, both sets of standards heavily emphasize key areas in mathematics content for the appropriate grade levels. "What is not recognized or addressed in the analysis above is that despite the pathway by which an elementary education program in D.C. is approved, candidates are extensively assessed while in the program, on their mastery of the content knowledge at multiple points throughout the program and in a variety of ways."  

Further, the District  pointed out that it has established requirements for teacher license applicants that outline specific coursework for those seeking licensure to teach elementary education. These requirements apply directly to teacher candidates seeking a license who have not participated in a state-approved teacher preparation program and outline up to 12 semester hours of mathematics coursework specific to the education of children from grades 1-6.

Last word

The District of Columbia's faith that teacher preparation programs are adequately addressing elementary mathematics preparation is not supported by the evidence. NCTQ's 2008 study "No Common Denominator: The Preparation of Elementary Teachers in Mathematics by America's Education Schools" found that few programs provide preparation of the appropriate breadth, depth and relevance.  

How we graded

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 report No Common Denominator: The Preparation of Elementary Teachers in Mathematics by America's Education Schools found that only 13 percent of teacher preparation programs in a national sample were 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.

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

Only Massachusetts has developed a rigorous assessment for elementary teachers entirely and solely focused on mathematics. Other states 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. 

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:
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 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).