Prior Study of Mathematics as a Predictor of Pre-service Teachers’ Success on Tests of Mathematics and Pedagogical Content Knowledge

Mar. 01, 2012

Source: Mathematics Teacher Education and Development, Vol. 14.1, 2012, , 2–26
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study examined the level of mathematics content knowledge that pre-service teachers brought to primary (elementary) teacher preparation.

The cohort comprised 122 graduate diploma primary teacher preparation students in an Australian university; the unit’s assessment required them to know the mathematics they were expected to teach as well as describe how to teach it.

The method chosen for this study was mixed-mode. The following data were collected from the pre-service teachers:
The level of mathematics studied at high school. (Survey); The form of mathematics studied during their undergraduate degrees or prior tertiary study (Survey); The level of mathematics upon entry to the course as measured by a standard Year 9 test of numeracy (MCEETYA, 2009), (Pre-test); The level of mathematics upon exit from the course as measured by a standard Year 9 test of numeracy (MCEETYA, 2009), (Post-test); A measure of pre-service teachers’ ability to describe how they would teach specific mathematics to primary students. This was in effect an estimate of students’ PCK at exit (Post-test)

Discussion and Conclusions

It was found that the level of high school mathematics undertaken was highly correlated with success in the teacher education unit designed to prepare prospective teachers to teach primary (elementary) mathematics.
As a cohort, the students entered the unit with content knowledge similar to the average Year 9 student (age 13 to 14 years). The data show that most pre-service teachers who have completed limited mathematics study in high school, know less when they commence tertiary teacher preparation study and exit with lower levels of content and PCK than other pre-service teachers. That is, having studied mathematics without calculus, is strongly associated with lower marks on tests for primary mathematics content and PCK.
Furthermore, almost half the pre-service teachers exited this unit with relatively strong knowledge of content and how to teach it. Some possible contributing factors include the structure of the unit, its content, how it was taught, the time it was implemented, and the nature of the intake.

In addition, the results indicate that preservice teachers who were proficient at mathematics were effective at explaining how to teach it.
The data indicate there is merit in exploring the use of the level of high school mathematics completed as a partial filter for teacher preparation programs.
At least knowing the level of high school mathematics completed by the applicant would alert the tertiary preparation provider to the need for additional testing in order to signal the need for early intervention.

The major finding of this study suggests the following recommendations for further study.
First, a more in-depth study of the relationship between content and pedagogical knowledge is needed.
Second, ongoing research into the effectiveness of various mathematics pre-service teacher programs is warranted, as are instruments to study progress. The data indicate that further research is needed on the content, duration, and delivery methods of units preparing preservice teachers to teach mathematics. It is clear that in this and potentially many other instances, too little is done too quickly for the many students who enter teacher preparation with limited mathematical background.


Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs [MCEETYA]. (2009). National assessment program, literacy and numeracy: Numeracy. Carlton, Victoria: Curriculum Corporation.

Updated: Jun. 27, 2016