Science

Tripping over Math in Massachusetts

By Sean Cavanagh — May 19, 2009 1 min read
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Last week I wrote about Massachusetts’ plan to require aspiring elementary school teachers to pass a math-specific portion of the state licensing test, as opposed to simply passing the generic exam.

Many of those teachers, it seems, have a major task ahead of them.

The state this week released results showing how teachers fared on the math portion of the state’s licensing exam, and the scores were very poor. Seventy-three percent of elementary teachers failed the math portion, according to this story in the Boston Globe. State education officials were not especially surprised by the low scores, the story says. And why would they be, given elementary teachers’ struggles with math content? If we were to break out the elementary math scores in other states (particularly in states that don’t fare nearly as well as Massachusetts on the National Assessment of Educational Progress), it’s hard to believe their primary-grades teachers would have done any better.

Massachusetts officials are expected to require passing scores in math on the state licensing exam, pending state board approval. They believe they’re the first state in the country to take that step. Folks from the National Council on Teacher Quality also told me they think Massachusetts would be the first.

I was curious about how teachers’ union officials would react to the elementary licensure results. The story says they’ve been calling for changes to elementary teacher-preparation programs for a long time, though one of their reps also seemed to question how much could be gleaned from the newly released results. “As a teacher, if I gave an exam and saw a 27 percent pass rate, my first inclination would not be to say there is something wrong with the people who took the test. It would be, is there something wrong with the test or something wrong with instruction?” Kathleen Skinner, an official with the Massachusetts Teachers Association, told the Globe.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.


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