Thursday, September 8, 2011

Study Finds Few Links Between Teacher Characteristics, Performance

Study Finds Few Links Between Teacher Characteristics, Performance

A recent study found that certification, advanced credentials, and experience in the classroom have little or no effect on student achievement on math and reading exams. I'm definitely not surprised to find out that certification and advanced credentials have no effect. And I would think experience would only make a difference for the first few years of a teacher's career. So... what DOES affect student achievement? I know that Teach For America has lots of data about the qualities that a person displays (i.e. highly organized, evidence of perseverance, etc.) and the likelihood that a person will make significant gains (2 years growth) with their students. What else is out there? Most colleges of education and alternative licensure programs don't have the luxury of turning away people who don't possess particular qualities. Neither do most school districts - there simply aren't enough qualified applicants.

So, now that we know what doesn't affect student achievement in math and reading - what does? What that can actually be encouraged for those who are already in the teaching profession? Hours per week spent working? Charting students' proficiency on classroom objectives? Co-teaching? Having a strong school leader?

Having seen my own test scores rise about 30% or so over 5 years of teaching, what seemed to make the biggest difference for my students was 1) Just getting better at teaching... sticking with it past those first 2 years, 2) Talking and caring a lot about test scores and paying attention to what types of questions were asked on the state test each year, 3)More or less forcing students to learn skills/content that they didn't learn the first time I taught it in class (by making them come in at lunch or re-do assignments) 4)Being held accountable by high achieving colleagues, TFA staff, and graduate school professors. But those are just guesses. I really don't know what caused my test scores to improve - and I guess that's part of the problem faced by those who study education. It's easy to see whether or not someone has an advanced degree, but what does "talking and caring a lot about test scores" really mean? And would it necessarily work for every teacher who tried it?

And there's always the question - are the test scores really what we're after? Definitively not. They are an approximation of students' progress toward the real outcomes that we want - success in college, skills necessary to obtain a lucrative career, well-rounded and informed citizen. Yet, we can't let our lack of clarity of exactly what results we want and how to measure those results blind us to the achievement gap that exists in our nation.

So as not to end on a hopeless note, I'm going to cast my vote for #4. I think that we need evaluators, coaches, colleagues, principals, graduate school teachers, parents, etc. inside classrooms - pushing teachers and helping teachers (not blaming teachers) to continuously find ways to help their students achieve more.

1 comment:

  1. I actually don't think the 4 sets of actions you took are guesses at all. I think they are a set of clear and concrete actions that are habitually linked to significant student learning. The reason I say this is because I feel like many in the education world seem to keep thinking there is this "magic" or "je ne sais quoi" that allows great teachers to do their thing, to make their gains. It's not though. It's a set of dispositions (mindsets) and skills and most importantly the qualities of effective leadership (vision-drivenness, a willingness to commit to investing others in that vision, knowing how to plan toward your vision and monitor your progress toward it, and continuously being open to learning, growing, and improving) that make a teacher great. I just think when we act like it's a mystery we discredit all our great teachers (and those brilliant minds that have studied them).

    Oh one more thing. I really thought you beautifully captured what purpose test scores ought to serve. I totally agree. They are necessary but insufficient indicators of growth and learning are happening SO THAT kids have brighter futures. Nicely put.