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By Jennifer Craw

From 2006 to 2011 the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), the organization that produces the TIMMS and PIRLS international assessments, worked with teacher education programs in seventeen countries to administer a survey to determine the depth of mathematics knowledge and skills of future teachers in those countries.  The study also assessed the quality assurance measures each nation has in place for recruiting and training teachers.  The seventeen countries that participated in this Teacher Education and Development Study in Mathematics (TEDS-M) were Botswana, Canada (four provinces), Chile, Georgia, Germany, Malaysia, Norway, Oman (lower-secondary teacher education only), the Philippines, Poland, the Russian Federation, Singapore, Spain (primary teacher education only), Switzerland (German-speaking cantons), Taiwan, Thailand, and the United States (public schools only).

The survey included a test of mathematics content knowledge of teachers in training in the last year of their primary- and lower-secondary teacher education programs.  The subdomains used to develop the test were derived from the subdomains used in the assessment frameworks for IEA’s Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) given every 4 years to students at grades 4 and 8 in more than 60 countries.  A different test was administered to students training to be primary teachers from the test given to students training to be lower-secondary teachers in order to reflect the level of mathematics they will eventually teach.

The charts below show the scaled mean score for teachers from each country, for primary teachers in Chart 1 and lower-secondary teachers in Chart 2.  Canada is not included in either chart as the number of responses from that country did not meet the sample size requirements for TEDS-M.

Stat1 (Source: TEDS-M Policy, Practice, and Readiness to Teach Primary and Secondary Mathematics in 17 Countries. The countries on this chart organize primary teacher training for different grade spans: Data from Georgia, Germany, Poland, Russian Federation and Switzerland comes from teachers trained for grades 1- 4; data from Chinese Taipei, Philippines, Singapore, Spain and the United States comes from teachers trained for grades 1-6; data from Botswana and Chile comes from teachers trained as primary and secondary generalists, able to teach students from grades 1-10. Respondents from Malaysia and Thailand were being trained as mathematics specialists rather than general primary teachers and are not included. Oman did not participate at the primary teacher training level.) Stat2
(Source: TEDS-M Policy, Practice, and Readiness to Teach Primary and Secondary Mathematics in 17 Countries. Countries on this chart train secondary teachers to teach through grade 11. Chile, Switzerland and the Philippines are not included on this chart as data from those countries came from teachers being trained to teach only through grade 10. Spain did not participate at the lower-secondary teacher training level.)

While not all countries represented in these charts participated in TIMSS 2011, it is clear that top TIMMS performers, such as Singapore and Taiwan, also did well on this measure of future teachers’ math content knowledge at both primary and secondary levels.

Along with the assessment gauging future teachers’ mathematics content knowledge, TEDS-M conducted a survey of teacher training programs in the countries studied to see what quality assurance procedures are in place for recruitment and selection of future teachers.  This study looked at three criteria for quality assurance in the recruitment and selection of future teachers: 1) The extent to which states control enrollment into teacher training programs, 2) The attractiveness and status of primary and secondary teaching as a profession, and 3) High selection requirements for entry into teacher training programs.  Quality assurance procedures from each country were ranked Strong, Moderately Strong or Limited.

The chart below demonstrates how each country scored for each category, according to the criteria developed by the TEDS-M study.  Among the countries that responded to the survey, only two countries were rated strong in all three categories: Taiwan and Singapore, both of which came out at the top of the league tables in the most recent administration of TIMSS Mathematics in 4th and 8th grade.  The United States, meanwhile, rated low on all three measures of quality assurance for recruitment and selection of teachers.

Stat3 (Source: TEDS-M Policy, Practice, and Readiness to Teach Primary and Secondary Mathematics in 17 Countries. Data representation by CIEB.)

The results of the TEDS-M survey clearly show a large gap in future teachers’ mathematical content knowledge between countries that typically top the league tables in student performance on international tests, like Taiwan and Singapore, and low performing countries.  Top performing countries also have rigorous quality assurance measures for recruiting and training new teachers.  The findings of the TEDS-M survey also suggest that the diversity in teacher recruitment and training procedures represents a policy continuum, which can provide countries working to improve teacher quality with examples of systems that are working hard to improve the mathematics knowledge and skills of their teaching force.  The TEDS-M survey considered other factors in teacher training programs as well, including future teachers’ beliefs about mathematics learning and self-reported past performance in mathematics.  We encourage you to read the full report here.