STEM Teacher Gap

Mississippi Becomes Latest State to Reduce Cut Score for Math Certification

The state of Mississippi is hoping to fill openings for math teachers by lowering the cut score for its certification exam. The Mississippi Board of Education recently approved a decision to reduce the passing score for the Praxis II Subject Assessment, "Mathematics: Content Knowledge" from 160 to 152 for teachers teaching in grades 7-12. The decision followed recommendations from the state's Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators, the Institutions of Higher Learning, the Mississippi Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, among others.

According to a state analysis, school districts have been struggling with a shortage of licensed math teachers to fill existing openings. The adjustment in passing score was recommended as part of a multi-pronged effort that also includes outreach to high schools to promote math teaching as a STEM career, outreach to education students who have indicated an interest in math education and identifying and redirecting student teachers who may be concentrated in subject areas where there's a surplus.

Mississippi isn't the only state to reconsider the use of a lower cut score. It joins the ranks of six other states that have dropped the ceiling as well: Alabama (145), Colorado (152), Iowa (134), Kansas (152), Nebraska (146) and South Carolina (150). The current national mean score is about 153; Mississippi's mean score for test takers is about 142. By the state's estimate, the decrease could raise the number of math teachers in the state by 10 percent.

Among those who spoke in support of the change was Roy Gill, superintendent of the Harrison County School District, which is currently seeking to fill three math teacher positions in its middle and high schools. "The problem has become critical," Gill wrote. "I currently have a teacher who has been the district teacher of the year at the middle school level, score 153 of the 160 points needed. She is an outstanding teacher in every way and her Algebra I data bears this out."

Added the district Mathematics Specialist, Stephanie Brewer, "Candidates must have command of every area of mathematics, which is not true in other content areas. A great algebra teacher does not have to know trigonometry to foster rigorous mathematical thinking for algebra."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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