Student Math Achievement and Out-of-Field Teaching

Issue/Topic: Curriculum--Mathematics; Teaching Quality--Certification and Licensure--Assignment
Publication: Educational Researcher
Published On: 10/1/2013

National-level evidence regarding teacher qualifications comes primarily from the National Center for Education Statistics' (NCES's) quadrennial survey of teachers--the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS). However, SASS has limitations in design and scope. It supports estimates around multiple grades, rather than specific grades. It contains only student demographic data at the school level which hinders direct comparisons of teacher qualifications.

To investigate the distribution of math teachers with a major or certification in math using data from the National Center for Education Statistics' High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09). To show how HSLS:09 can be used to analyze the distribution of qualified teachers in mathematics.

  • A majority of students in ninth grade have teachers with a major and certification in math. However, 10% of ninth-graders have math teachers with neither a major nor certification. More ninth-graders need expanded access to math teachers with a math major than prior national results would suggest, expecially since algebra I is of foundational importance and it is often taken in ninth grade.

  • The High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09) shows that low-achieving ninth-graders are much more likely than higher-scoring students to have a teacher with neither a major nor certification in math.

  • The lack of qualified teachers in low-performing and high-poverty schools is well documented, but the HSLS-09 data identify specific problems in connecting qualified teachers to low-achieving students within schools. In particular, low-achieving ninth-graders, as well as ninth-graders overall, are more likely to have math teachers without a major in math than prior national results would suggest.

Policy Implications/Recommendations:
  • Out-of-field teaching may be a greater problem than previously recognized.

  • If decreasing out-of-field teaching specifically for low-performing students is a primary goal for policymakers, then training and assignment policies must address the dearth of math teachers with a math major assigned to those students.

  • The Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) should not be the only national source used to address out-of-field teaching, particiularly for answering questions about individual grades or specific types of students and it must be supplemented with national, state, and local data to help analyze out-of-field teaching, particularly for answering questions in grades of critical transitions.

Research Design:
Descriptive analysis. Researchers examined the qualifications of ninth-grade math teachers, as represented by their responses to questions about certification and college majors, against students' algebra achievement.

Nationally representative sample of ninth-graders

Year data is from:


Data Collection and Analysis:
Used data from the NCES High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09) and compared that to NCES' quadrennial survey of teachers, the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS).


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