Elementary Teacher Preparation in
Mathematics: Wisconsin

Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy


The state should ensure that new elementary teachers have sufficient knowledge of the mathematics content taught in elementary grades.

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

Analysis of Wisconsin's policies

Wisconsin relies on its coursework requirements 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 general education program that includes mathematics; however, Wisconsin specifies neither the requisite content of these classes nor that they must meet the needs of elementary teachers. The state has also articulated broad 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 this mathematics content of appropriate breadth and depth to elementary teacher candidates.

Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin

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

Wisconsin pointed out that it has adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for mathematics, and efforts are underway to provide all stakeholders with resources and professional development on implementing these standards. The state also noted that it will be revising its elementary content guidelines for preparation programs based on the new CCSS and InTASC standards. These new content guidelines will assist Wisconsin in reviewing its current content exam to determine if it still meets the state's needs.

Wisconsin added that up to this point, the shelf-test content exam it selected in 2001 for elementary candidates was not available with separate subscores. It now recognizes that some new testing options may be available for review, and it looks forward to moving ahead with this work. 

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).