Elementary Teacher Preparation in
Mathematics: Pennsylvania

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

Analysis of Pennsylvania's policies

Pennsylvania 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 elementary teaching candidates to earn at least six semester hours of credit in college-level mathematics. However, Pennsylvania specifies neither the requisite content of these classes nor that they must meet the needs of elementary teachers. The state has also articulated teaching standards that its approved teacher preparation programs must use to frame instruction in elementary mathematics content. The state's standards appropriately address content in mathematics foundations, but although they mention such areas as algebra, geometry and statistics, the standards lack the specificity needed to ensure that teacher preparation programs deliver this mathematics content of appropriate breadth and depth to elementary teacher candidates. Pennsylvania also requires that teacher preparation programs prepare elementary teacher candidates to teach to the state's elementary student curriculum.

As of April 2, 2012, the state will require the Pennsylvania Educator Certification Test (PECT) for grades PK-4. This will be a modular test that will report a specific score for mathematics. The rigor of this new assessment has yet to be determined. 

Citation

Recommendations for Pennsylvania

Require teacher preparation programs to provide mathematics content specifically geared to the needs of elementary teachers.
Although Pennsylvania requires knowledge in some 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.
Pennsylvania 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.

Although the state's new assessment will provide a mathematics subscore, Pennsylvania should ensure that this score is not merely provided for informational purposes, but that candidates must specifically pass the math subtest to pass the overall assessment. 

State response to our analysis

Pennsylvania was helpful in providing NCTQ with facts that enhanced this analysis. The state added that its new PK-4 certificate requires that all PK-4 candidates demonstrate knowledge of mathematics in the "appropriate depth and breadth."  

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).