Ensuring preservice secondary teachers are prepared for state certification exams

Female professor lecturing in a math classroom

In the state of Florida, preservice teachers can obtain grades 5-9 or grades 6-12 certification to teach middle and secondary mathematics. In recent years, recommendations were made to raise the benchmark for success on the state certification exam, which assesses content and pedagogical knowledge of applicants. Generally, the University of South Florida mathematics preservice teachers demonstrate proficiency and have excellent results on this exam. Nevertheless, in order to ensure continued success we adopted the use of MyMathTest to strengthen our preservice teachers’ mathematical content knowledge (Schmidt, et al, 2011) that consists of substantive and syntactic knowledge (Shulman & Grossman, 1988; Ball, Thames, and Phelps, 2008).

MyMathTest can be used as a review to strengthen mathematical understanding because preservice teachers can take a test and have a personalized study plan to remediate areas of weakness. It is also aligned with Florida’s grade 6-12 mathematics competency and skills for teachers. The MyMathTest is a computer-based test, with automatic feedback, and provides an individualized remediation plan. The test, we used, consisted of 29 questions, and assessed preservice teachers knowledge of algebra, advanced algebra, functions, geometry, coordinate geometry, trigonometry, statistics and probability calculus, and mathematical reasoning.

During spring 2015, we gathered quantitative and qualitative data to gain insight into the effectiveness of MyMathTest. We reviewed pre-service teachers’ scores on their test, and made note of the objectives that students frequently struggled with. Additionally, we reviewed their reflections about the program and its implication based on their responses on a questionnaire. The questionnaire asked preservice teachers to elaborate on their difficulties with particular notions they struggled with and how they overcame the challenges faced, beliefs about the extent this test measured their mathematical knowledge for teaching, the extent this test measures the Common Core State Standards – Standards for Mathematical Practice, and what can be done to enhance preservice teachers’ mathematical content knowledge. The quantitative data were analyzed using measures of central tendencies, and a thematic analysis was utilized to analyze the qualitative data.

Of the 27 preservice teachers who took the test, the average score was 86.3% and the median was 86.2%. Generally, if preservice teachers struggled, it was related to questions that assessed functions and trigonometry. The preservice teachers also found that MyMathTest was helpful in reviewing secondary mathematics content. Sample preservice teachers responses about it are:

  • “MyMathTest made me understand that prior to starting to teach my first year I need to review the material that I’ll be scheduled to teach, because without practice or review math skills are certainly dimmed over time and this could affect the way students view my professionalism or abilities of teaching them”
  • “MyMathTest reminded me of topics I had forgotten about and helped me realize I need a refresher course on a couple of topics. I know that whatever I get hired to teach, I will make sure I am well versed in that topic and am ready to answer all kinds of questions. I think everyone needs to review some material sometimes.”
  • “One thing that hadn’t occurred to me until taking this test was the importance of mathematical vocabulary.”
  • “I feel as if this test did adequately let me show what I know mathematically.”
  • “I would say that this test was extremely vast and covered a good amount of knowledge that I have of secondary mathematics.”


Overall, we found that MyMathTest can be used to help develop preservice teachers’ mathematics knowledge, as we attend to pedagogical practices within the methods courses. The online program provides opportunities for preservice teachers to review core mathematics topics independently, as we use instructional time to consider effective strategies that can be employed to teach a broad spectrum of mathematical content, as well as topic-specific strategies that can facilitate a conceptual understanding of mathematics.


About the Author
Ruthmae Sears, Ph.D.

Ruthmae Sears, Ph.D.

Dr. Ruthmae Sears is an assistant professor at the University of South Florida. She coordinates the Beginning and Intermediate Algebra Mathematics courses that incorporate the SMART lab in the teaching of mathematics. Additionally, she is the mathematics education doctoral program coordinator, the Tampa Bay representative for the Mathematics Teacher Education Partnership, and the secretary for the Florida Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators. She has published and presented on curriculum issues, reasoning and proof, and technology.



Ball, D. L., Thames, M. H., & Phelps, G. (2008). Content knowledge for teaching what makes it special?. Journal of teacher education, 59(5), 389-407.

Schmidt, W. H., Blömeke, S., Tatto, M. T., Hsieh, F. J., Cogan, L., Houang, R. T., & Schwille, J. (2011). Teacher education matters: a study of middle school mathematics teacher preparation in six countries. New York, NY: Teachers College Press, Columbia University.

Shulman, L., & Grossman, P. (1988). The Intern Teacher Casebook. San Francisco, CA: Far Wets Laboratory for Educational Research and Development.