School & District Management

Studies Test for Ways to Spot Good Teachers

By Sarah D. Sparks — April 24, 2012 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The latest results of the massive Measures of Effective Teaching Project may give pause to districts working to develop teacher-effectiveness evaluations.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s MET project, one of the largest instructional-observation studies in the country, has found that teacher-effectiveness assessments similar to those used in some district value-added systems aren’t good at showing which differences are important between the most- and least-effective educators, and often totally misunderstand the “messy middle” that most teachers occupy.

“The beauty of multiple measures isn’t that there are more of them—more can be more confusing. These need to be aligned to the outcomes we care about,” said Steve Cantrell, who oversees the MET project for the Seattle-based Gates. (The foundation also helps support coverage of K-12 business and innovation in Education Week.)

Mr. Cantrell and other MET researchers dug into the latest wave of findings from the study of more than 3,000 classes on April 14 for a standing-room-only ballroom crowd at the American Educational Research Association’s annual conference here.

Existing teacher-evaluation systems often use too few classroom observations, indicators that are not effective at gauging student achievement, and evaluation methods that lump teachers into too-simplistic categories, the researchers found.

“The middle is a lot messier than a lot of state policies would lead us to believe,” Mr. Cantrell said. “Based on the practice data, if I look at the quartiles, all that separates the 25th and 75th on a class [observation] instrument is .68—less than 10 percent of the scale distribution. In a lot of systems, the 75th percentile teacher is considered a leader and the 25th percentile considered a laggard.”

Focusing on Practice

Moreover, Mr. Cantrell said, firing the lowest-performing quarter of teachers wouldn’t improve teachers’ instruction generally. Researchers found differences in classroom practices between effective and ineffective teachers mostly in classroom management and behavior. Based on observing more than 24,000 lessons, the project found that “classroom practice could be described as orderly but unambitious,” Mr. Cantrell said.

Is it possible to test whether a teacher will use the best instructional practices, as opposed to only average ones?

Drew Gitomer, the education chair at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education, in New Brunswick, N.J., thinks so. At the conference, he described his work with MET to develop better teacher content assessments, which gauge “whether teachers understand how to phrase questions and examples that will address potential student misconceptions about the content.”

For example, one question asks teachers to determine which of several examples of simple exponents would be the least useful in a math class; the question looks for the teacher to understand that 3 cubed would be a better example than 2 squared, because the latter would give students the same answer, 4, if they simply multiply the number by its exponent. Three cubed, if solved incorrectly, would reveal a student’s misunderstanding of the procedure.

Mr. Gitomer conducted 90-minute interviews with 60 teachers who scored in the top and bottom 25 percent of teachers on that test. He found that the lowest-performing teachers often had weak reasoning for instructional decisions; they lost track of the larger purpose behind a lesson and often cited personal preference to justify an approach.

Strong teachers, by contrast, used questions to look at larger classes of problems, and could describe how their approach supported their students’ learning.

Observing ‘Seven C’s’

Student observations may be the real key to identifying what works in teaching, said another presenter, Ronald F. Ferguson, a senior lecturer in education and public policy at Harvard University. He analyzed surveys from 2,985 MET classes with at least five responding students each, and compared students’ achievement with their observations of their teachers’ use of “seven C’s” of teaching practice. They focus on whether a teacher:

• Cares about students;

• Captivates them by showing learning is relevant;

• Confers with students to show their ideas are welcomed and respected;

• Clarifies lessons so knowledge seems feasible;

• Consolidates knowledge so lessons are connected and integrated;

• Controls behavior so students stay on task; and

• Challenges students to achieve.

Educators often think caring is the most critical practice for student achievement, but Mr. Ferguson said he found other practices more correlated with high achievement.

Teachers who were in the top quartile in the number of students reporting that they practiced the seven C’s, Mr. Ferguson said, had students who achieved a full semester’s worth of learning more than students of teachers in the bottom quartile of the seven C’s.

A version of this article appeared in the April 25, 2012 edition of Education Week as MET Studies Seek More Nuanced Look at Teaching Quality

Events

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
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning
Budget & Finance Webinar Staffing Schools After ESSER: What School and District Leaders Need to Know
Join our newsroom for insights on investing in critical student support positions as pandemic funds expire.
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
Student Achievement Webinar
How can districts build sustainable tutoring models before the money runs out?
District leaders, low on funds, must decide: broad support for all or deep interventions for few? Let's discuss maximizing tutoring resources.
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools

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 Quiz What Do You Know About the Most Influential People in School Districts? Take Our Quiz
Answer 7 questions about the superintendent profession.
1 min read
Image of icons for gender, pay, demographics.
Canva
School & District Management Opinion I Invited My Students to Be the Principal for a Day. Here’s What I Learned
When I felt myself slipping into a springtime slump, this simple activity reminded me of my “why” as an educator.
S. Kambar Khoshaba
4 min read
052024 OPINION Khoshaba PRINCIPAL end the year with positivity
E+/Getty + Vanessa Solis/Education Week via Canva
School & District Management The Complicated Fight Over Four-Day School Weeks
Missouri lawmakers want to encourage large districts to maintain five-day weeks—even as four-day weeks grow more popular.
7 min read
Calendar 4 day week
iStock/Getty
School & District Management From Our Research Center Principal Salaries: The Gap Between Expectation and Reality
Exclusive survey data indicate a gap between the expectations and the realities of principal pay.
4 min read
A Black woman is standing on a ladder and looking into the distance with binoculars, in the background is an ascending arrow.
iStock/Getty