July 20, 2004
| Volume 2 | Number 15
Teacher Quality Measures and Student Achievement in Mathematics
Teacher Quality Measures and Student Achievement in Mathematics
What teacher quality measures most strongly correlate with student performance on the math portion of the 8th grade National Assessment of Educational Progress?
The No Child Left Behind Act mandates that all teachers in core subjects be highly qualified by the end of the 2005–06 school year. The education act includes a limited definition of “highly qualified” that focuses on content knowledge rather than pedagogical preparation. This highlights a long-running debate between supporters of trade and professional models of teacher preparation (see EDPolicy Update (2)3, and Is It Good for the Kids? January 2003). Supporters of the trade model focus on ensuring subject-matter competence through testing and education requirements and leave on-the-job training to supply pedagogical and teaching knowledge. Supporters of the professional model of preparation focus on supplying future teachers with subject-matter expertise, but also support instruction in the science of teaching, as well as demonstrated teaching capacity (through student teaching), prior to full employment.
The research highlighted in this issue of ResearchBrief informs this debate as it examines the relationship between teacher characteristics that previous studies have related to student learning—certification, subject-matter knowledge, and experience—and the performance of students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
In the study highlighted in this issue of ResearchBrief (see below for full citation), Elizabeth Greenberg, David Rhodes, Xiaolan Ye, and Fran Stancavage used data from the 2000 math NAEP and focused on four characteristics of teacher qualification: certification, college or graduate school major; highest degree; and experience.
Certified teachers were defined as teachers holding a professional, regular, standard, or probationary certificate to teach in their subject field. All other teachers (those with emergency, temporary, or provisional licenses) were defined as uncertified since they did not meet basic certification standards. Teachers were categorized as having a major or minor in the field in which they teach if they had a major or minor in either mathematics or mathematics education. Researchers also divided teachers into two separate degree categories, irrespective of field focus—those with a bachelor's degree, and those with higher degrees (master's degree or doctorate). Finally, the researchers looked at years of teaching experience, both in mathematics and in other fields. They defined experienced teachers as those with five or more years of experience.
Because the NAEP provides only statistical estimates of student ability, as well as the fact that the sampling procedures used in administering the NAEP are not random, researchers were forced to design a complex series of statistical manipulations and controls focusing on two specific analyses: a difference-of-means test to examine the differences in academic achievement among students with different teachers and an examination of the tendency of teachers with specific characteristics (including subject-matter preparation, experience, and certification) to teach students in discrete subgroups (e.g., high-poverty students). The researchers sought to answer four questions:
- What are the relationships between teacher characteristics and student achievement?
- Do these relationships remain when other factors are controlled for?
- How are teachers with characteristics that are positively correlated to student performance distributed across student subgroups?
- Is the mathematics achievement of at-risk students related to the qualifications of their teachers?
Researchers found that teacher certification was strongly associated with higher student scores, as was a major or minor in either mathematics or mathematics education. They did not find significant associations between higher degrees of education or teaching experience and student achievement. When controlling for other factors, the researchers found that parent education level was related to student scores, as was the number of reading materials reported to be in the home. Race, gender, eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch, and being tracked into the lowest-level courses all had a negative correlation to student mathematics achievement. All of these finding were statistically significant.
Researchers next looked at the likelihood of various student subgroups to be taught by teachers who were certified and had either a major or minor in mathematics or mathematics education (the two characteristics found to be most strongly correlated to high student achievement). High-poverty students were more likely to have teachers who were uncertified and lacked a mathematics or mathematics education major or minor than were their peers. The same was true of students in low-ability classes when compared to their peers in high-ability classes. Students in low-ability classes were also more likely to have less-experienced teachers and teachers teaching out-of-field.
When high-poverty students and students in low-ability classes were taught by teachers who were fully certified or had a mathematics or mathematics education major, their scores were higher than those whose teachers lacked these characteristics.
The Bottom Line
Students who have teachers with a major in mathematics or mathematics education, or teachers who are fully certified in mathematics, are more likely to have higher scores on the 8th grade NEAP mathematics test. Teachers with these characteristics are much less likely to teach high-poverty students and students in low-ability classes.
This research focuses on students and teachers in 8th grade mathematics classes.
The researchers in this study used a variety of complex statistical manipulations and weak proxy measures that could limit the accuracy of their findings (for example, because the NAEP does not provide longitudinal data, researchers used course level as a proxy for prior student achievement, rather than actual performance measures) and the extent to which these findings can be generalized. Researchers also had to adjust for the fact that students are only tested on subsets of the NAEP mathematics tests, so that their reported scores are, in fact, statistical estimates of what their actual scores would have been had they completed the full test. This research also focuses narrowly on 8th grade mathematics, and thus the findings may not generalize to other subjects or grade levels. Although this research found a relationship between various teacher characteristics and student achievement, it does not identify why that relationship exists. There may be other variables not included in this research that influence this relationship.
Greenberg, E., Rhodes, D., Ye, X., & Stancavage, F. (2004). Prepared to teach: Teacher preparation and student achievement in eighth-grade mathematics. American Institutes for Research. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Diego, California. Retrieved June 28, 2004 from http://www.air.org/news_events/documents/AERA2004PreparedtoTeach.pdf.
Research-Based Characteristics of High-Quality Teacher Preparation
Teacher Quality and Student Achievement: A Review of State Policy Evidence
Education Policy Analysis Archives, 8(1)
Defining “Highly qualified teachers”: What does “Scientifically based research” actually tell us?
Educational Researcher, 31(9)
Does teacher certification Matter? High school teacher certification status and student achievement
Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 22(2)
Two paths to quality teaching: Implications for policymaker
Education Commission of the States
Teacher licensing and student achievement
Thomas B. Fordham Foundation
All comments regarding ReseachBrief should be sent to RBfeedback@ascd.org. To speak directly with an ASCD staff member, please Contact Us.
Dan Laitsch serves as ASCD's consultant editor for ResearchBrief. Laitsch is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, and is coeditor of the International Journal for Education Policy and Leadership.
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