Elementary Teacher Preparation in
Mathematics: South Carolina

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

Analysis of South Carolina's policies

South Carolina 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 state has adopted NCATE's 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 they make little mention of the actual knowledge that might contribute to such an understanding.

South Carolina 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 South Carolina

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, South Carolina 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.
South Carolina 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

South Carolina recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. The state added that in addition to requiring elementary programs to meet NCATE's ACEI standards, it requires all programs to meet all applicable state Standards for Educator Preparation Programs, one of which relates to the pre-K-12 academic standards: "All educator preparation candidates must know, understand and demonstrate the use of national and state student academic achievement standards for all subject areas in which they will be certified to teach. Educator preparation units must provide assessment data to indicate that candidates know, understand, and can apply the appropriate South Carolina pre-K-12 academic standards." 

South Carolina also contended that NCTQ's recommended approach focuses on preparation inputs (i.e., "seat time") rather than on candidate performance. "It is important to give colleges of education (COEs) the flexibility to meet the needs of their candidates. We believe that the approach taken by programs like ABCTE and Teach for America is demonstrating that flexibility balanced with accountability is the best approach."

Last word

Nothing in NCTQ's recommendation speaks to seat time, but rather the need to be specific about the content that elementary teachers need. NCTQ agrees that programs should be given flexibility in how requirements are met and, accordingly, advocates for a rigorous test, such as the one required by Massachusetts, as the best way to hold programs accountable and ensure that teachers are not licensed without the appropriate knowledge and skills.  

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).