Districts could boost their ability to hire teachers who help students learn more and who stay on the job longer by improving their screening techniques, a newly released working paper concludes.
Based on an analysis of teacher-hiring practices in the Spokane, Wash., school district, the research suggests that systematically culling candidates’ recommendations to get a better sense of their classroom-management techniques, ability to work with colleagues, and instructional skill can pay off in academic-achievement gains.
The 29,000-student district’s hiring process, developed in-house 10 years ago, is far from a silver bullet, but the results it’s been getting are significant. In math, the effect is potentially equivalent to selecting teachers whose performance mirrors that of a typical third-year teacher rather than a first-year teacher.
Only a few studies, including the recent paper out of the University of Washington, have sought to document the links between specific teacher-hiring practices and K-12 academic improvement.
“Teacher Characteristics and Student Achievement: Evidence From Teach For America”
Working paper (2009)
Will Dobbie, Harvard University
Findings: Teachers with high scores on some of Teach For America’s selection criteria, such as leadership ability, were linked with improved student achievement in mathematics and, less so, in English/language arts.
“Can You Recognize an Effective Teacher When You Recruit One?”
Published in Educational Finance and Policy (2011)
Jonah E. Rockoff, Columbia University; Brian A. Jacob, University of Michigan; Thomas J. Kane, Harvard University; Douglas O. Staiger, Dartmouth College
Findings: New York City teachers’ performance on a commercial screening instrument, and on a test of pedagogical-content knowledge in math, appeared to be modestly correlated with student outcomes. Teachers with a specific set of cognitive or noncognitive skills appeared to be somewhat more effective, on average, than their peers.
Working paper (2014)
Dan Goldhaber, Cyrus Grout, Nick Huntington-Klein
Center for Education Data & Research, University of Washington Bothell
Findings: Teachers selected on the basis of a two-step process for screening résumés and recommendations for such attributes as flexibility, experience, and instructional skills were associated with higher student test scores and better retention rates.
And given that attempts to dismiss teachers are time-intensive and costly, especially after they’ve been given tenure, improvements in hiring show a lot of promise, said Dan Goldhaber, a research professor at the University of Washington Bothell and one of three scholars who conducted the study.
“Hiring by school systems in this country looks to be pretty ad hoc,” Mr. Goldhaber said. “Despite a lot of rhetoric about the impending teacher shortage, districts have a lot of choice about who to hire, and it doesn’t look like there’s much evidence that they systematically make good choices.”
In the annals of education research, teacher-hiring systems remain relatively understudied, despite the huge attention paid to teacher quality in recent years. Only a few research studies have found links between teacher-hiring practices and student-achievement outcomes.
The Spokane district uses a two-tiered system for hiring candidates. First, its central human resources office scores applicants on a 21-point scale by examining their résumés for experience and skills and reviewing recommendations from supervisors.
Next, principals request lists of candidates who have met a particular cutoff score, and then use a detailed, 60-point evaluation tool to look through those documents for evidence of such attributes as flexibility, experience, and instructional skills to select prospects to bring in for interviews.
For the study, the researchers looked at some 4,200 teacher applications in the district from 2009 to 2012. Where possible, the authors linked that information to teachers’ retention rates and their value-added results, which examine teachers’ impact on students’ test-score growth.
The researchers analyzed results for teachers who passed each step of the hiring process, and compared the results of teachers who were hired by Spokane with those of educators who were not but went on to teach in different Washington state districts.
The researchers found that each of the two hiring stages had some predictive power in terms of student achievement.
Most of that effect seemed to have been driven by specific components. For the 21-point screening, the candidates’ recommendations showed a statistically significant correlation with teacher effectiveness in math. For the 60-point scale, points for classroom-management skills were correlated with effectiveness in both reading and math instruction; high rankings on flexibility and instructional skill were linked to increases in math.
Overall, an increase of one standard deviation on the 60-point screening was associated with 0.03 and 0.07 percent improvements in students’ test scores in reading and math, respectively. The figure for math is roughly equivalent to the difference in effectiveness between the average novice teacher and one with about three years’ experience, Mr. Goldhaber said.
In addition, the one-standard-deviation increase also predicted a decrease in teacher attrition of about 2.5 percentage points.
The screening results did not predict, though, whether the teachers hired were more likely or less likely to have absences from work.
Accelerating the Process
Tennille Jeffries-Simmons, the district’s chief human resources officer, said she’s pleased that the hiring system is helping identify effective teachers. Now she hopes to shorten the process from three to four weeks down to about a week.
“Our biggest interest is to speed up the time it takes to move through the process without losing any of the effectiveness that this study has shown that we have,” Ms. Jeffries-Simmons said. “We want to be as competitive as possible, and the speed with which we’re able to access talented candidates is a huge component of that.”
Thomas J. Kane, a professor of education and economics at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, seconded the study’s overall conclusion that hiring processes deserve more attention. “Any information that can help you identify effectiveness before a teacher is on the payroll is very valuable,” he said.
Still, other innovations—like asking prospective teachers to give demonstration lessons—should also be considered and studied for their ties to achievement, he added.
The study cautions that districts that try to emulate Spokane’s system might not have the same results, because of variations in the highly localized teacher labor market. Districts with fewer applicants, or those that face more competition for teachers, might not have the ability to be as choosy as Spokane, it notes.
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 November 12, 2014 edition of Education Week as Study: Close Screening Process Can Improve Teacher Hires