Elementary Teacher Preparation in
Mathematics: Washington

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

Analysis of Washington's policies

Washington relies on its standards for teacher preparation programs as the basis for articulating its requirements for the mathematics content knowledge of elementary teacher candidates.

The state does not specify any coursework requirements regarding mathematics content. However, Washington has 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.

Finally, Washington requires that all new elementary teachers pass the Washington Educator Skills Test — Endorsement (WEST-E). Although the state subject-examination test requires passing scores on both subtests that comprise the overall test, the test combines the subtest for mathematics, science and physical education, so it may be possible to answer many mathematics questions incorrectly and still pass the test.

Citation

Recommendations for Washington

Require teacher preparation programs to provide mathematics content specifically geared to the needs of elementary teachers.
Although Washington 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.
Washington should ensure that its math assessment evaluates candidates' knowledge beyond an elementary school level, challenges their understanding of underlying concepts and requires candidates to apply knowledge in nonroutine, multistep procedures.  The state should also require a passing score specifically in math for its content assessments to ensure that teacher candidates have adequate mathematics knowledge. Such a score could 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

Washington recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. The state added that the elementary education Teacher Performance Assessment (TPA) will focus on specific subject areas, and it is likely the Board will require that a certain percentage of randomly selected candidates have a separate score on the math portion of the TPA, thus allowing for specific analysis of candidate and program effectiveness related to elementary math instruction.    

Last word

While it is clear that looking at the specific scores of a percentage of randomly selected candidates can be useful for program accountability, it does nothing to ensure that the state is not licensing individuals who are not prepared to teach mathematics to their elementary students.  

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).