Teacher Qualification and Student Academic Achievement

10 October 2016

This study examines whether teacher qualifications are related to student academic achievement, specifically, we examine the relationship between fifth grade student achievement in mathematics and reading and various indicators of teacher qualifications such as teacher certification, teaching experience and teacher’s education level. This research design takes advantage of the National Childhood Longitudinal Study of Kindergarten Class of 1998-19999 (ECLS-K).

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The analysis indicates that elementary school certification promotes student achievement in both fifth grade mathematics and reading, while teacher’s teaching experience matters more for reading than mathematics. In terms of teacher education, we found no significant effects on increasing students’ test scores. However, our results indicate that students’ race, their parents’ education level, and their socioeconomic status have a larger effect on test scores than teachers’ education, experience, or the general state certification.

It took me a long time before I found the right data for this research. Without the guidance of Dr. Liza Herzog, Senior Research Associate of the Philadelphia Education Fund, Dr Elizabeth Useem, a Senior Research Consultant at the Research for Action and Dr. Ruth Neild, a Research Scientist at Johns Hopkins University, this would not have been possible. I would like to add a special thanks to Professor Thomas Dee, Associate Professor of Economics and the Director of Public Policy Program at Swarthmore College, who suggested that I look at this particular data set (ECLS-K).

I am extremely grateful for his advice, since this project would not have gotten this far without his help. I also thank my advisor Professor Saleha Jilani, who supervised the entirety of the project. Her patience and kindness with me over the months are deeply appreciated. Finally, I want to extend my gratitude to Professor Thomas Vartanian at Bryn Mawr Graduate School of Social Work for his inspiration to study the education inequality in the United States, and also my family and friends for their continuous encouragement during my semester of completing this project.

The bill outlined President Bush’s public education reform agenda, proposing the most dramatic changes to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which has tried to raise the academic performance of all students, since its enactment in 1965. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) includes significant new accountability measures for all public schools, such as closing the achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students, achieving mathematics and reading proficiency for all students by the 2013-14 school year, providing a highly qualified teacher for every core academic subject, improving communication with arents and making all schools safer for students (Mantel 2005, Four Pillars 2004). To recruit and supply more “highly qualified teachers”, the law has increased federal funding for teacher training programs, such as the Troops to Teacher program that encourages military veterans to become teachers, the Transition to Teaching program that encourages experienced professional to become teachers, and Teach for America which recruits recent college graduates to teach in disadvantaged schools.

Since teachers are arguably the most important education resource, recent interest in teacher labor markets stems in part from the recognition of the importance of teachers and the recognition of substantial differences across schools in the qualifications of teachers. A consistent finding in the research literature is that teachers are important for student learning and that there is great variation in effectiveness across teachers (Aaronson, Barrow and Sander, 2003; Rockoff, 2004; Rivkin, Hanushek and Kain, 2005, Kane, Rockoff and Staiger, 2006).

Furthermore, many researchers believe that teacher quality is a key determinant of student achievement, and this has been explicitly acknowledged under the NCLB by requiring every elementary and secondary public school teacher be “highly qualified”. To be considered “highly qualified” under the NCLB rubrics, teachers need to have a bachelor degrees and state certification that has not been waived on a temporary or emergency basis.

In addition, NCLB also requires these highly qualified teachers to be proficient in the subjects they teach, by having a college major or graduate degree in that particular subject, credits equivalent to a college major, passing a state-developed subject matter test, or having advanced certification. All these definitions of “high quality” and requirements of teachers reinforce the idea that as we raise standards for all students, we are placing even greater importance on the role of teachers.

This research looks at academic gains among students during their elementary education and how their achievement is affected by the different teacher qualities, such as their teaching experience, their level of teaching certifications, their employment status, their education attainment (i. e. receipt of a master’s degree) etc, in addition to the effects of students’ schools and families impact their academic achievements. The two questions is explored in this paper are: * to what extent are fifth grade teacher qualifications associated with their students’ mathematics score? to what extent are fifth grade teacher qualifications associated with their students’ reading scores? This study is organized as follows. The next section provides a brief overview of the relevant literature on teacher quality. Then we discuss our econometric specifications and the ECLS-K data. The following section presents our results and the final section concludes with some discussion of how these results relate to the prior literature and what they mean for current policies. II. PREVIOUS LITERATURE

Kati Haycock, a teacher quality advocate, argues that there is clear evidence that demonstrate how “teachers have the single greatest effect on student learning” (Huang, Yi, Haycock 2002) since teachers spend a significant amount of time working directly with students. Highly dedicated and qualified teachers are needed to strengthen students’ learning experience and maximize their academic achievement. However, there are also a lot of different studies on teacher qualification that argues otherwise.

The following literature review touches upon recent studies of teacher certification, teacher’s teaching experience, teacher’s education degree and assessments for teachers. No doubt, there is an acute need for teachers in high poverty schools in the United States, yet to improve the current programs, there are continuous heated debates on teacher assessments such as whether teacher certification improves students’ performance and whether teacher-intern programs such as Teach for America (TFA) where interns are allocated into poor performing schools and are asked to transform the classroom enhances students’ academic achievements.

For TFA Corp members the criticisms tend to fall into two categories: first, is that most TFA teachers have not received traditional teacher training and therefore are not as prepared for the demands of the classroom as are traditionally trained teachers; and second, is that TFA requires only a short-term commitment, only two years of teaching and the majority of Corp members leave at the end of that commitment (Xu, Hannaway, and Taylor, 2007).

This contributes to the vicious cycle of low teacher retention rate and enormous spending for training new teachers because the benefits of TFA’s teacher training are lost when TFA teachers leave. There are more than four studies done that included data on TFA and three of them are published in peer-reviewed journals. Looking at these four studies together, which will be discussed individually later, it shows that students of uncertified TFA teachers do significantly less well in both reading and mathematics than those who are new yet certified, and the negative effects in reading are most evident in elementary grades.

On the other hand, when TFA teachers obtain training and certification, their students generally do as well as those of other teachers or sometimes better in mathematics. Furthermore, the problem with the retaining TFA teachers was also highlighted in the following studies. In Laczko-Kerr and Berliner’s (2002) study, they compared student achievement for 110 matched pairs of recently hired under-certified and certified elementary teachers from five low-income school districts in Arizona.

These elementary teachers were paired up with students who took the mandated state achievement test, which is third grade and above, and were matched within schools and districts. Their study had two findings: first, it indicates students of TFA teachers did not perform significantly different from students of other under-certified teachers; and secondly, they found that students of certified teachers significantly out-performed students of teachers who were under-certified on all three subtests of the SAT-9 – reading, mathematics and language arts.

Notably, the effect size favoring the students of certified teachers were substantial. Students of certified teachers outperformed students of under-certified teachers by about three months in reading on a grade equivalent scale, and about three months ahead in both mathematics and language arts. In addition, the study verified traditional programs of teacher preparation result in positive effects on academic achievement of low-income elementary school children. Therefore, concluding that policies allowing under-certified teachers to work with the most difficult to teach children appear harmful.

Even though Laczko-Kerr and Berliner’s study did not control for prior year achievement at the individual student level, other studies that included this control also obtained similar findings such as the study by Darling-Hammond, Holtzman, Gatlin and Heilig (2005). They used data from Houston, Texas which has information on more than 132,000 students and 4,400 teachers in grades three to five over six years on six achievement tests: the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS), SAT-9, and Aprenda (for Spanish-speaking students) in reading and mathematics.

In this study, students’ prior year achievement and demographic characteristics, classroom and school characteristics, and teachers’ experience and degrees were all controlled for and they found that certified teachers consistently produced significantly stronger student achievement gains than uncertified teachers, including Teach for America teachers. These uncertified teachers had significant negative effects on student achievement for five of six tests, with the sixth test showing insignificant but negative effects.

Among the five tests showing negative effect of having an uncertified teacher, the study established that uncertified TFA teachers had greater negative effects than other uncertified teachers, by hindering their students’ achievement by one-half month to three months annually compared to a fully certified teacher with the same experience working in similar school. While on a positive note, TFA teachers’ effectiveness improved once they gained certification.

TFA teachers who stayed long enough to obtain standard certification did about as well as other similarly experienced certified teachers. In mathematics, TFA students did significantly better than those of other certified teachers on the TAAS test, with no difference in the SAT-9 test but still marginally worse on the Aprenda test. Even though TFA teachers appeared to improve when they became certified in their second or third year, few of them stayed in the district or even continue to teach to exercise their effective teaching.

In the third study by Boyd, Grossman, Lankford, Loeb and Wyckoff (2006), they examined how the entry requirements changes the teacher workforce and affect student achievement by analyzing the effectiveness of 3,766 new teachers who entered teaching in grades 4-8 through different pathways in New York City. The study found that, compared to the students of new teachers who graduated from teacher education programs, students of new TFA recruits scored significantly lower in reading / language arts and about the same in mathematics (worse in grades 4-5 and better in grades 6-8).

These results were similar to those of other teachers from non-traditional routes, including the New York Teaching Fellows, temporary license holders, and teachers from out-of-the-country. Like the Darling-Hammond et al. (2005) study in the Houston, TFA teachers’ effectiveness generally improved as they became more prepared and certified by the second year of teaching, the negative effects disappeared for elementary math. Unfortunately for reading, TFA teachers continued to exert a significant negative influence on their students’ reading scores.

Just as the Houston study, most TFA teachers left after their second year and their retention rate by year three is as low as 27% and by year four only 15 %. This retention rate is about 25 percentage points lower than other non-traditional entrants and 13 percentage points less than college prepared teachers. Using the same database as Boyd and colleagues’ New York City study, Kane, Rockoff and Staiger (2006) compared entrants into New York City schools by different categories of initial pathway and certification status. Similar to the Boyd et al. tudy, this study found that, in math and reading, students of first year teachers from TFA, the NYC Teaching Fellows, and other uncertified teachers did worse than those of first year teachers who were regularly certified. As the authors sort the new teachers into different categories, they included teachers licensed through “transcript review” and temporary permits in the same group as college-prepared teachers, to minimize the effect of teacher preparation. Once again, the study demonstrated a reduction or elimination of negative effects in math when teachers finished their training and certification and gained experience.

However, in reading, the initially uncertified groups of teachers continued to have a negative effect for all three years (for Teaching Fellows and other uncertified teachers) and for two of the three years (for TFA). As the other studies have shown, TFA has an especially high attrition rate, by the fourth year, only about 10% of TFA recruits stayed in teaching, about 40% of other uncertified teachers remained, about 50% of NYC Teaching Fellows continued, and just below 60% of regular certified teachers kept onto the profession.

There is a large number of studies on the relationship between student achievement and teachers’ characteristics, such as teacher experience, preparation, degrees earned, certification, and test scores and we touched upon a few of them in our previous section on teacher quality and qualification. Surprisingly, the majority of studies conclude that teacher education and experience not being strong predictors of teacher effectiveness, as measured by student gains.

In the study of Chicago Public School teachers, Aaronson, Barrow, and Sander (2003) found that 90 percent of the variance in teacher effects on student learning was not explained by teacher characteristics, such as highest level of education, experience, credentials, and selectivity of the college that the teacher attended. In addition, there is an unexpected preponderance of evidence that suggests teachers who have completed graduate degrees are not significantly more effective at increasing student learning than those with no more than a bachelor’s degree.

Five studies that Rice (2003) reviewed examined student achievement in a wide variety of grades and subject areas, and found that teachers having completed an advanced degree had no significant effect on student performance (Summers and Wolfe, 1977; Link and Ratledge, 1979; Murnane and Phillips, 1981; Harnisch, 1987; Monk, 1994). Clotfelter, Ladd, and Vigdor (2007a) have also found that on average, elementary teachers who had completed master’s degrees were no more or no less effective than others at raising student achievement, other than elementary teachers with master’s degrees.

This group of elementary teachers appeared to be less effective, on average, than those without advanced degrees if they earned the degrees more than five years after they started teaching. In terms of the effectiveness of teacher assessment, Margolis (2006) examined the impact of high-stakes assessments, of both K-12 students and new teachers, on teacher development of equitable teaching practices.

Through exploring two studies of field experiences in Washington State—one of teacher interns and one of cooperating teachers, Margolis reckons that new teachers were receiving little support in incorporating multiculturalism, cultural responsiveness, and transformative pedagogies into their teaching requirements and that state level policies in response to the No Child Left Behind Act may be decreasing teacher attention to closing the achievement gap.

His analysis points out that, in order to hold teachers more accountable, policymakers may want to shift their focus from creating complex assessment guidelines that evaluate teachers’ qualification to develop better teacher-student relationships that promote pedagogical change. III. MODEL Two basic “ordinary least squares” (OLS) regressions are done to investigate the extent of teacher qualification influences fifth grade student’s grades in both mathematics and reading, controlling for student’s socioeconomic status and school characteristics.

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