Math teacher shortage varies locally

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, May 23, 2018

During the Mississippi Board of Education’s May 17 meeting, it was decided that the required score to pass the Praxis 5161 mathematics test would be lowered from 160 points to 152, according to coverage by the Associated Press. This brings Mississippi’s mathematics teacher licensure requirements to one of the lowest in the nation. According to coverage by the AP, the change was made in an attempt to combat the statewide shortage of math teachers.

The Praxis 5161 mathematics assessment affects those who are planning to pursue a middle school or high school teaching career. According to an article by the Mississippi Department of Education, there is currently a critical shortage of special education, mathematics, science and foreign language teachers in the state. While Pearl River County is not listed among the critically affected counties, the teacher shortage still had an impact on local school districts’ ability to hire and train new teachers.

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Picayune School District Assistant Superintendent Brent Harrell said the teacher shortage has affected not just Mississippi, but the entire nation. Despite this, the Picayune School District has been fortunate, because Harrell said the District has been able to fill all of its teacher positions each year. He said the District’s administration takes an aggressive position on hiring, starting the process as early as January.

In regard to the Mississippi Board of Education lowering the Praxis testing requirements for licensure, he said he wishes the vote had not gone through. He said that the curriculum in mathematics is strenuous, so teachers need a very strong background and understanding of the subject in order to teach it efficiently. He said this is especially true for those who teach grades 7-12, which is what the Praxis assessment directly affects.

In Poplarville, Superintendent Carl Merritt said the teacher shortage has had a significant impact on the Poplarville School District. He said the District is having to work with teachers with less experience because teachers with that experience are just not applying for jobs. As a result, the District has to spend extra time and money to train new teachers. Merritt said while these teachers sometimes become the best on staff, he would still rather have employees with previous training.

Merritt said because it is so costly to train teachers without certification, he thinks the state Board of Education’s decision was the right one. He said he would rather be able to hire someone with certification and a slightly lower score on the Praxis test, than to hire someone with no certification.

Pearl River County School District Superintendent Alan Lumpkin could not be reached for comment before press time.