Elementary Teacher Preparation in
Mathematics: New Jersey

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.

Does not meet
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Elementary Teacher Preparation in Mathematics: New Jersey results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/NJ-Elementary-Teacher-Preparation-in-Mathematics-6

Analysis of New Jersey's policies

New Jersey relies on both coursework requirements and its standards for teacher preparation programs as the basis for articulating its requirements for the mathematics content knowledge of elementary teacher candidates.

The state requires that all teacher candidates complete a minimum of 60 credit hours of general education with "some study" in the area of mathematics. However, New Jersey specifies neither the requisite content of these classes nor that they must meet the needs of elementary teachers.

New Jersey has also articulated teaching standards that its approved teacher preparation programs must use to frame instruction in elementary mathematics content, but these standards lack the specificity needed to ensure that teacher preparation programs deliver mathematics content of appropriate breadth and depth to elementary teacher candidates. Finally, New Jersey 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 include 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 New Jersey

Require teacher preparation programs to provide mathematics content specifically geared to the needs of elementary teachers.
Although New Jersey requires some mathematics coursework, 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.
New Jersey 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

New Jersey asserted that it requires study of the teaching of numeracy for both traditional and alternate route candidates. Traditional route programs must have their programs reviewed through a national accreditation agency (either NCATE or TEAC), be approved through the state program approval process in which the national standards for elementary education (ACEI) are used and ensure alignment with the core content standards for students. 

New Jersey also contended that for candidates entering the profession through the traditional route, the state requires a sequence of courses to the teaching of numeracy that are aligned with the national standards from ACEI. Candidates entering through the alternate route must complete a minimum of 45 hours of study in the teaching of mathematics. Approved programs must align with the Professional Teaching Standards, which contain subject-matter standards that address numeracy, as well as with the core content standards for students. 

Last word

The issue is that the standards New Jersey relies on do not provide the specificity to ensure that elementary teachers get content of the appropriate breadth, depth and relevance.  For example, ACEI algebra standards state that teacher candidates should "know, understand and apply algebraic principles," but they make little mention of the actual knowledge that might contribute to such an understanding.

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).