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New study indicates that student test scores are only weakly correlated with perceived teacher quality

The study was carried out by researchers based in California and Pennsylvania and was partially funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It attempted to assess the accuracy of the “value-added model” — that is, based on a mix of student test scores, teacher assessment, and observation, how much did a teacher contribute to his or her class’ education?

The study found that teachers who received high marks in student and superior assessment did not necessarily have classes with higher test scores. The researchers argue that these results indicate that the value-added model is flawed. A similar statement was recently issued by the American Statistical Association.

What the article does not point out, but the full study does (available for free here), is that teachers in all districts taught less than half of the material being tested on the exam — sometimes well below. This misalignment of subject matter and assessment may contribute to poor test scores.* However, the researchers note that they may not be measuring this alignment effectively.

The full study also notes the characteristics of respondents and their classes. The researchers examined the characteristics of classrooms across the US, examining fourth- and eighth-grade math and English. This translated into five school districts across the country. Of these five school districts, four allowed the teachers to accept a gift for their voluntary participation in the study. These districts, perhaps unsurprisingly, had a much higher response rate than the fifth district (which did not allow gifts) — between about half and three-quarters of teachers vs. less than a third.

In addition, the student body affected the response rate. Although the districts varied in students’ socioeconomic makeup, teachers who had majority-white classrooms were much more likely to respond than teachers who had majority-African American or majority-Native American students. The authors of the study argue that this did not affect their results, but it is certainly something to think about.

Also note breaking news from one of the five districts in the survey: newly realigned curriculum led to an increase of almost 10 percentage points in the 4th grade classrooms (see article).

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About the Author: Jaclyn Neel is a visiting Assistant Professor in Ancient History at York University in Toronto, Ontario.

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