Mass. elementary teachers must pass math test

iStock_000014316766XSmallCandidates to teach elementary school in Massachusetts will now need to pass both a general knowledge test and a math proficiency test to earn their license, even though 3 out of 4 failed the new math section when the test was given for the first time in March.

“To raise student achievement in math we must strengthen the math knowledge of our teachers,” said Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester. “This is an assessment that will ensure that aspiring teachers have a deep understanding of math concepts and how what they teach in the early grades connects to the more advanced math their students will eventually have to master.”

The state says it is the first state in the country to institute a math-specific proficiency exam for elementary certification. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted in 2007 to require new elementary and special education teachers to pass a test of math proficiency to improve the level of math education students receive in early grades.

Recently the board ruled that for the next three years teacher candidates who score between 227 and 239 out of 300 points on the test will earn their preliminary or initial license. They will then be required to score at least a 240 on a retest over the next five years before renewing their license or moving to the next stage of licensure.

When the test was given in March to more than 600 would-be educators, 27% scored 240 or above; 42% scored above 227. This transitional provision will be in effect for three years, and will end in 2012 when the passing score will be permanently set at 240 for an initial license.

Veteran elementary teachers will not have to take the exam. Previously, elementary school teachers could receive a state license without answering a single math question correctly on the general curriculum exam, reports the Boston Globe. Now math is being scored separately as a subtest of that exam.

Administrators and representatives of teachers unions blame teacher preparation programs for failing to adequately train elementary school and special education teachers in math instruction.

“BESE Approves New Math Requirement for Aspiring Elementary Educators,” Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education press release, May 19, 2009; “Aspiring teachers fall short on math,” by James Vaznis, Boston Globe, May 19, 2009.

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