The state should ensure that new elementary teachers have sufficient knowledge of the mathematics content taught in elementary grades. This goal was consistent between 2015 and 2017.
Mathematics Content Test Requirements: Wisconsin requires that all new elementary teacher candidates pass a general subject-matter test, Praxis II Elementary Education: Content Knowledge (5018) test. This commercial test lacks a specific mathematics subscore, so it may be possible to 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.
Mathematics Preparation Standards: Although Wisconsin requires that all teacher candidates complete a general education program that includes mathematics, the state specifies neither the requisite content of these classes nor that they must meet the needs of elementary teachers. Wisconsin's program approval standards for elementary preparation programs reference the 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.
Require all teacher candidates who teach elementary grades to pass a rigorous mathematics assessment.
Wisconsin should assess mathematics content with a rigorous assessment tool, such as the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure (MTEL) mathematics test, which 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. To help ensure that all students are taught by a teacher who has demonstrated adequate mathematics content knowledge, teacher candidates who lack this knowledge should not be eligible for licensure.
Require teacher preparation programs to provide mathematics content specifically geared to the needs of elementary teachers.
Wisconsin must ensure that new teachers are prepared to teach the mathematics content required by the Common Core State Standards. Although ACEI standards require some knowledge in key areas of mathematics, Wisconsin 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 coursework. To help ensure that all students are taught by a teacher with adequate mathematics content knowledge, teacher candidates who lack this knowledge should not be eligible for licensure.
Wisconsin stated that its main elementary license is the Regular Education at the Middle Childhood-Early Adolescence developmental level (grades 1-8). All candidates must pass the Praxis II Middle School Content Knowledge (5146) exam to receive this license. This test covers mathematics concepts and skills at a much deeper level than the Elementary Education Content Knowledge test that was used for analysis.
2B: Teaching Elementary Mathematics
Required math coursework should be tailored in both design and delivery to the unique needs of the elementary teacher. Aspiring elementary teachers must 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 is 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."
States' policies should require preparation in mathematics of appropriate breadth and depth and specific to the needs of the elementary teacher. Reports by NCTQ on teacher preparation, beginning with No Common Denominator: The Preparation of Elementary Teachers in Mathematics by America's Education Schools (2008) and continuing through the Teacher Prep Review, have consistently found few elementary teacher preparation programs across the country 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.
Many state tests offer no assurance that teachers are prepared to teach mathematics. An increasing number of states require passage of a mathematics subtest as a condition of licensure, but many states still 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, in some cases 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 content but not at an elementary level. Instead, problems should challenge the teacher candidate's understanding of underlying concepts and apply knowledge in nonroutine, multistep procedures. The MTEL test required by both Massachusetts and North Carolina remains the standard bearer for a high quality, rigorous assessment for elementary teachers entirely and solely focused on mathematics.