Elementary Teacher Preparation in
Mathematics: Oklahoma

2011 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
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Elementary Teacher Preparation in Mathematics: Oklahoma results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/OK-Elementary-Teacher-Preparation-in-Mathematics-6

Analysis of Oklahoma's policies

Oklahoma relies on coursework requirements, national accreditation standards for teacher preparation programs and its framework for subject-matter testing as the basis for articulating its requirements for the mathematics content knowledge of elementary teacher candidates.

The state requires elementary teaching candidates to earn at least 12 semester hours of credit in mathematics. However, Oklahoma specifies neither the requisite content of these classes nor that they must meet the needs of elementary teachers.

Oklahoma has also adopted NCATE's ACEI (Association for Childhood Education International) 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 an understanding.

Oklahoma requires that all new elementary teachers pass the Oklahoma Subject Area Test, which includes content specifications for mathematics, including "principles and properties of geometry" and "linear algebraic relations and functions." However, these specifications are not geared to meet the needs of elementary teachers. In addition, Oklahoma posts only a limited number of sample items, and a review of this material calls the rigor of its test into question; the test items representing elementary school content assess understanding at too superficial a level. Finally, although the state subject-examination test requires passing scores on both of its subtests, one subtest combines mathematics, science, health and fine arts; it may be possible to answer many mathematics questions incorrectly and still pass the test.


Recommendations for Oklahoma

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, Oklahoma 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.
Oklahoma 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

Oklahoma asserted that to qualify as an elementary generalist, candidates must document competency in mathematics, as identified in the NCATE curriculum guidelines and the state's subject-matter competencies. The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education also requires candidates to complete 12 hours of professional education in mathematics, science, language arts and social studies. Oklahoma noted that although its Commission for Teacher Preparation does not specify which courses must be taken, the rule does articulate that candidates must document competencies as identified by NCATE and the state for elementary education, "ensuring that coursework is geared to the area of knowledge needed by teachers in each of these areas."

Oklahoma also contended that all new elementary teachers must pass the Oklahoma Subject Area Test, which includes specific math content geared to meet the needs of elementary teachers: number sense, numerations and operations, algebraic patterns and relationship, geometry, measurement, statistics, probability, problem solving and mathematical representation. The state added that although sample test items are posted, they are not intended to reflect the rigor of actual test items. Oklahoma added that subscore data for the subject test is reported to both examinees and preparation programs.

Finally, the state noted that ACEI standards for math content are explicit and do contain the specifics needed. For example, the standards specify that when "candidates know, understand and apply algebraic principles," they must at the bare minimum, be able to explore and analyze patterns, relations and functions; work comfortably with equality, equations and inequalities; and recognize and analyze mathematical structure.  

Last word

ACEI standards address necessary knowledge in mathematics foundations, but they lack the specificity needed to ensure that teacher preparation programs deliver elementary mathematics content of appropriate breadth and depth to elementary teacher candidates.  In the example of algebraic principles, for example, they do not distinguish between the knowledge that would be acquired in a college algebra course and that acquired in an elementary mathematics course designed for teacher candidates. 

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:

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).