Friday, December 10, 2010

Gates Teacher Effectiveness Study Links Good Teaching with Gains in Test Scores

Some preliminary results were published today from the $45 million Measures of Effective Teaching study being conducted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  The goal of this research, which is examining 3,000 teachers from seven urban school districts, including the Charlotte-Mecklenburg system here in North Carolina, is to develop a fair and comprehensive way to assess a teacher's overall role on student achievement beyond simply how their students do in high-stakes testing (which is called "value-added"measurement).

The headline among most of the educational journals about these results is that individual teachers' "value-added" histories (how much their students have raised their test scores in the past) strongly predict how they will do in the future, even if they have changed schools or classes.  So, those teachers whose students have increased their scores significantly in previous years usually continue to teach classes with strong test score increases at the end of the year.  These factors were linked regardless of subject matter or grade level.

Less highlighted in the study reviews, however, is the fact that the teachers who did a good job in raising student scores also were consistently rated high by their students on good teaching practices, such as giving clear explanations, explaining the same thing in several different ways, and showing care and concern for their students.  The teachers with the biggest gains were also highly and consistently rated by students from all their different classes for their classroom management skills as well as for their tendency to present challenging academic content.  So, basically, what this study says to me is that good teaching lead to good test scores.

This is, perhaps, not a revolutionary concept.  But what I think it does indicate is that the teachers who are most effective in raising student scores due so NOT by focusing on the ends--the tests--but by the means--the process of instruction.  The researchers emphasize that these are preliminary results of a multi-year project, so we aren't supposed to be drawing hard and fast conclusions yet.  However, I think it supports the notion that "teaching to the test" doesn't work to raise test scores; good teaching does.  And I think any research that helps lead us away from focusing on the test so much and concentrating on identifying, sharing, and rewarding good teaching IN AND OF ITSELF is a good thing.

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