Who's Teaching Math to Our Most Needy Students? A Descriptive Study

May. 20, 2010

Source: Teacher Education and Special Education, 33(2) 102-113. (May, 2010).
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) mandates that every classroom be staffed with a "highly qualified teacher." Research supports that teachers' content knowledge affects student achievement. However, the special education population continues to be taught by teachers who do not have the content area background they teach. In addition, accountability reports indicate that the special education population did not meet the adequate yearly progress in reading and mathematics as required under NCLB.
The purpose of this study is to determine the mathematical background, beliefs, and perceptions of future intervention specialists.

Research Questions

The research questions for this study were as follows:
1) What mathematical experiences do future intervention specialists have prior to entering an initial licensure program?
2) Do future intervention specialists have basic mathematical proficiency?
3) What are the mathematical beliefs and confidence levels of future intervention specialists?


The participants for this study consisted of 26 students enrolled in a graduate program leading to an initial license in special education in a small private institution of higher education in southwestern Ohio. All participants were enrolled in a graduate special education assessment course and had completed at least 19 graduate credit hours required for licensure.
Forty-five percent of the participants were employed as teachers with either a temporary license or a long-term substitute license. In addition, 24% of the participants already had a general education license and were seeking a second license in special education.

Data were collected through three methods: 1) a review of the participants' undergraduate transcripts; 2) a review of test results from the Ohio Achievement Test- Practice Eighth Grade Mathematics (OAT-Math Practice) that the participants completed in a graduate assessment course as part of the course requirement; and, 3) a belief and confidence survey that was administered to the participants at the conclusion of their assessment course.


The results of this study indicate that the participants had limited experiences in mathematics and many of their experiences would not be considered positive. Furthermore, the results also indicate that a majority of participants were lacking in basic mathematical proficiency as evidenced by a review of the participants' transcripts and their results on the OAT— Math Practice.
Finally, the results indicate a disconnect between the participants' beliefs and perceptions of their ability to provide math instruction and their limited mathematical background as measured by mathematical courses completed at the undergraduate level and by the Ohio Achievement Test-Practice Eighth Grade Mathematics.

The OAT- Math Practice shows promise as an effective measure to assess teachers' mathematical knowledge of the content they are required to teach. The authors suggest that the OAT-Math Practice may also serve as a viable entrance exam for teacher preparation institutes as they admit individuals in teaching licensure programs.

Updated: Oct. 26, 2010