Elementary Teacher Preparation in
Mathematics: District of Columbia

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 a small part of goal
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.


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.  

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).