Elementary Teacher Preparation in
Mathematics: Illinois

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: Illinois results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/IL-Elementary-Teacher-Preparation-in-Mathematics-6

Analysis of Illinois's policies

Illinois relies on its standards for teacher preparation programs and its subject-matter testing requirements as the basis for articulating its requirements for the mathematics content knowledge of elementary teacher candidates.

Illinois does not specify any coursework requirements regarding mathematics content. However, the state has articulated teaching standards that its approved teacher preparation programs must use to frame instruction in elementary mathematics content. Elementary teacher candidates must "demonstrate proficiency" in various mathematics concepts, including algebra, geometry and statistics. Unfortunately, these standards lack the specificity needed to ensure that teacher preparation programs deliver mathematics content of appropriate breadth and depth to elementary teacher candidates.

Illinois requires that all new elementary teachers pass a general subject-matter test from the Illinois Certification Testing System (ICTS). The test's standards appropriately address content in mathematics foundations, but although they outline areas such as algebra, geometry and statistics, the standards are not specifically geared to meet the needs of elementary teachers. In addition, Illinois posts only a limited number of sample items, and a review of this material calls into question the test's rigor; the test items representing elementary school content assess understanding at too superficial a level. Further, the state does not provide a specific mathematics passing score, so one can likely fail the mathematics portion and still pass the test.

Citation

Recommendations for Illinois

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

Illinois recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. The state added that its new requirements for elementary and middle grades have specific content standards for mathematics that align to the Common Core. Additionally, when the stakeholders developed teacher standards, the goal was not only alignment, but also that teachers know expectations for their certified grade range as well as those above and below them. Hence, elementary teachers are required to know middle-level standards, and middle-level teachers are required to know elementary and high school standards.

Further, Illinois's new assessments will require passing scores for each subarea within the elementary content test and specific content-area tests for middle-level teachers. For example, a math endorsement will require that teachers pass a mathematics content test.

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).