School & District Management

Best and Worst Teachers Can Be Flagged Early, Says Study

By Sarah D. Sparks — March 05, 2013 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

New teachers become much more effective with a few years of classroom experience, but a working paper by a team of researchers suggests the most—and least—effective elementary teachers show their colors at the very start of their careers.

“This is a fundamentally different time period for teachers, when we know they are going through changes,” said lead author Allison Atteberry, a research associate in the Center on Education Policy and Workforce Competitiveness at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. She discussed preliminary results of the study at a research meeting on K-12 and postsecondary education held by the Washington-based National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, known as CALDER, on Feb. 21.

“We know less about how these value-added measures work in the early career,” she added.

The study tracked the individual effectiveness of more than 7,600 incoming New York City teachers in mathematics and English/language arts. Each of the teachers taught 4th or 5th grade from 2000 to 2006.

The researchers analyzed teacher records from the New York city and state education departments, along with data on the teachers’ students, including achievement-test results in math and English/language arts, gender, ethnicity, home language, poverty, special education status, and absences and suspensions.

Predicting Performance

While incoming New York City teachers became more effective at improving their students’ mathematics and English/language arts performance in their first few years on the job, new research finds that they’re often still in the same performance quintile after four or five years. Researchers compared the mean effectiveness in the first two years with effectiveness in later years.

BRIC ARCHIVE

SOURCE: National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research

Ms. Atteberry’s co-authors are Susanna Loeb, the director of Stanford University’s Center for Education Policy Analysis, and James H. Wyckoff, an education professor at the University of Virginia. They and Ms. Atteberry are all associated with CALDER.

For the incoming teachers who continued to teach for at least five years, the researchers compared the mean value-added effectiveness at improving student achievement in math and English in their first two years of teaching with their effectiveness for the next three years.

Overall, the teachers improved significantly in their first two years in their value-added score. While more than 36 percent of teachers were rated in the lowest of five levels of effectiveness at the start of their careers, only 12 percent were still rated in that same quintile by their third year of teaching.

Limited Growth?

However, when teachers at each initial level of effectiveness were tracked individually over time, their growth was much less significant. Compared with other teachers who started at the same time they did, teachers in the lowest 20 percent were still likely to be in the lowest 20 percent three to five years later.

“When you look at teachers who in the future are low-performing, very few of those come from the initially highest quintile of performance, and the same is true in the opposite direction,” Ms. Atteberry said. “We see that even more at the high end: Teachers who are initially highest-performing are by far the most likely to be in the highest quintile in the future.”

Tim R. Sass, an economics and public-policy research professor at Georgia State University in Atlanta, who was not associated with the study, noted that few teachers perform flawlessly in their first year on the job and that policymakers should be cautious about making quick judgments about new teachers. “Even if you’re not going to make lots of mistakes, you will make some,” he said.

Mr. Sass also pointed out that most teachers who start out as less effective become at least average after a few years. The mean value-added measure in the first two years of teaching accounts for only about 28 percent of the total difference in teachers’ value-added effectiveness scores after five years, Mr. Sass said, and the study did not look at specific pedagogical styles or other aspects of teaching that could explain more of the difference.

Still, he said: “Do first impressions matter? The short answer is yes. Early-career value-added does a pretty good job of predicting later performance.”

A Caveat

Based on the New York findings, said Mr. Sass, if a principal did not keep the teachers identified in the bottom 10 percent of effectiveness because of their value-added effectiveness in their first two years, the school would get rid of 30 percent of the teachers who rate as least effective five years out, and would keep all the teachers who would eventually be rated in the top 10 percent.

He did not recommend outright that districts try that, but said it was something to consider.

Mr. Wyckoff, one of the co-authors, said he did not think the study should be used to justify firing teachers.

Steven Glazerman, a senior fellow at Mathematica Policy Research in Princeton, N.J., who has studied value-added measures of teacher effectiveness, said the study both confirms and raises some “interesting questions” about the common understanding that new teachers improve rapidly in their first years.

He cautioned, however, that because the study only uses data on new teachers who continued to teach 4th and 5th grades for at least five years, it left out 95 percent of those new teachers.

“What’s hard to know about, but what fascinates me in what’s exposed by this paper, is the fact that such a large percentage of teachers cycle in and out of tested grades,” Mr. Glazerman said. “That makes it very difficult to study them using value-added measures.”

Mr. Wyckoff agreed with Mr. Glazerman that the small number of teachers who stayed in the same grades for all five years was “certainly something we were surprised about.”

He and the other authors are conducting a follow-up study to gauge whether that finding was due to normal attrition among early-career teachers or something specific to the tested grades.

Coverage of policy efforts to improve the teaching profession is supported by a grant from the Joyce Foundation, at www.joycefdn.org/Programs/Education. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
A version of this article appeared in the March 06, 2013 edition of Education Week as Study: Best and Worst Teachers Can Be Flagged Early

Events

Special Education Webinar Reading, Dyslexia, and Equity: Best Practices for Addressing a Threefold Challenge
Learn about proven strategies for instruction and intervention that support students with dyslexia.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
The Key to Better Learning: Indoor Air Quality
Learn about the importance of improved indoor air quality in schools, and how to pick the right solutions for educators, students, and staff.
Content provided by Delos
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Leading Systemic Redesign: Strategies from the Field
Learn how your school community can work together to redesign the school system, reengineer instruction, & co-author personalized learning.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Political Tensions in Schools Are 'Pervasive,' Principals Say
High school principals reported high levels of student conflict due to political beliefs and parent efforts to limit curriculum about race.
6 min read
Image of political tension surrounding school leaders.
Collage by Laura Baker/Education Week via iStock/Getty
School & District Management Litter Boxes in Schools: How a Disruptive and Demeaning Hoax Frustrated School Leaders
A hoax claiming that schools were providing litter boxes to students wasted school leaders' time as they worked to debunk it.
6 min read
Smartphone with blue and red colored hoax bubbles floating up off of the screen onto a dark black background with illegible lines of text also in the background.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
School & District Management A New Federal Grant Will Fund Schools' Energy Upgrades. Here's What to Know
The Department of Energy released new funding to help schools redo HVAC systems, add renewable energy, and upgrade facilities.
3 min read
A small white space heater directs air under a teacher's desk. On the front of the desk is a sign that says "Welcome to our classroom."
Personal space heaters are a common item found in the classrooms at Greene County High School in Snow Hill, N.C., where they're used to heat rooms when the HVAC units fail. New federal grants will help schools upgrade climate systems and add energy efficiency measures.
Alex Boerner for Education Week
School & District Management Opinion Principals, Make Room for Teacher Collaboration
The pandemic only reinforced the importance of dedicated time for professional development and collaboration.
Megan Stanton-Anderson
4 min read
112322 opinion Principal is IN 15Stanton Anderson collaboration
Vanessa Solis/Education Week via Canva