Teaching Profession

ETS Study Links Effective Teaching Methods to Test-Score Gains

By Julie Blair — October 25, 2000 4 min read

Students whose teachers undertake further study and who use certain instructional strategies score higher on tests than students who don’t have the benefit of such teacher practices, a study released last week concludes.

The report aims to answer the question of whether effective teachers do things differently. The answer is a resounding yes, said Harold H. Wenglinsky, the report’s author and an associate research scientist at the Educational Testing Service.

But policymakers have largely ignored classroom factors, he says, in favor of focusing on such considerations as teacher recruitment and pay.

“In sum, this study shows not only that teachers matter most, but how they most matter,” he writes. “What really matters is not where teachers come from, but what they do in the classroom.”

The report, released last week by the Princeton, N.J.-based testmaker, linked teachers’ classroom practices, professional-development experiences, and educational backgrounds to the performance of 8th graders on the mathematics and sciences portions of the 1996 National Assessment of Educational Progress.

For More Information

The study, “How Teaching Matters: Bringing the Classroom Back Into Discussions of Teacher Quality,” is available from ETS. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

Mr. Wenglinsky said the study illuminates the paths educators should follow to help their pupils make gains in learning.

Students who performed ahead of their peers were taught by educators who integrated hands-on learning, critical thinking, and frequent teacher-developed assessments into their lessons, he found.

However, he said in an interview, “the kinds of [teaching practices] that do seem to be effective seem to be precisely those that are being discouraged, or at least not pursued in most classrooms in the country.”

Hands-On Learning

The study, “How Teaching Matters: Bringing the Classroom Back Into Discussions of Teacher Quality,” looked at nearly 15,000 NAEP scores. Using the questionnaires filled out by student test-takers and their teachers and principals, the researcher was able to investigate if what teachers did in their classrooms had an impact on NAEP scores.

Students whose math teachers had employed hands-on learning tested 72 percent ahead of their peers on the assessment, which is given to a sampling of students nationwide. Those whose teachers stressed critical-thinking skills posted scores 39 percent higher.

In science, 8th graders who had completed hands-on learning tasks scored ahead of their other peers by 40 percent.

For both subjects, students whose teachers used frequent in-class tests scored higher than those who used portfolios and projects. But Mr. Wenglinsky said portfolio assessments should not be eliminated, because such methods help track the progress of the entire class.

Unfortunately, the report says, too few teachers use the practices that were associated with higher scores.

Math teachers commonly assign rote work and real-world story problems, it says, but largely ignore writing about math—an important high-order thinking skill. And only a handful of math educators use models or blocks to help students conceptualize problems, it says.

Misguided Classes?

Science teachers engage students more often in hands-on learning experiences and assign more writing than math instructors do, yet only 59 percent complete a science demonstration each week, Mr. Wenglinsky found.

Time that teachers spent outside the classroom had, in some cases, more impact on students than classroom instruction did, the report says.

Students taught by math teachers who had learned to work with students who came from different cultures, had limited proficiency in English, or had special needs tested more than one full grade level above their peers.

Those teachers likely enjoyed success because they had learned how to individualize their instruction, Mr. Wenglinsky said.

Having such teachers did not improve achievement on science tests, however.

But science instructors who had learned laboratory skills appeared able to raise student achievement significantly. Their students scored 44 percent higher than others in the same grade.

Despite those findings, a majority of math and science teachers take professional-development classes on cooperative and interdisciplinary instruction, according to the report—methods that it says had little impact on student achievement.

Teachers’ educational backgrounds also appear crucial, the study found. Students whose teachers had college majors or minors in either math or science scored 39 percent higher than those whose teachers lacked such preparation.

That finding made sense to James W. Fraser, the dean of the school of education at Northeastern University in Boston.

“If you are going to engage students in active learning, higher-order thinking, and hands-on experiments, all sorts of questions will be generated, and the teacher needs to be ready,” he said. “You need to know your stuff.”

The report makes one strong recommendation: Improve teaching through high-quality professional development.

“The first step for policymakers,” it argues, “is to stop scratching the surface of teaching and learning through superficial policies that manipulate teacher inputs, and instead roll up their sleeves and dig into the nature of teaching and learning by influencing what occurs in the classroom.”

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
Student Well-Being Webinar
How Districts Are Centering Relationships and Systemic SEL for Back to School 21-22
As educators and leaders consider how SEL fits into their reopening and back-to-school plans, it must go beyond an SEL curriculum. SEL is part of who we are as educators and students, as well as
Content provided by Panorama Education
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
The Fall K-3 Classroom: What the data imply about composition, challenges and opportunities
The data tracking learning loss among the nation’s schoolchildren confirms that things are bad and getting worse. The data also tells another story — one with serious implications for the hoped for learning recovery initiatives
Content provided by Campaign for Grade-Level Reading
Student Well-Being Online Summit Student Mental Health
Attend this summit to learn what the data tells us about student mental health, what schools can do, and best practices to support students.

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

Teaching Profession Nearly 9 in 10 Teachers Willing to Work in Schools Once Vaccinated, Survey Finds
Nearly half of educators who belong to the National Education Association have gotten at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
4 min read
Nurse Sara Muela, left, administers the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to educator Rebecca Titus at a vaccination site setup for teachers and school staff at the Berks County Intermediate Unit in Reading, Pa., on March 15, 2021.
Nurse Sara Muela, left, administers the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to educator Rebecca Titus at a vaccination site set up for teachers and school staff in Reading, Pa., on March 15.
Matt Rourke/AP
Teaching Profession Q&A Nation's Top Teachers Discuss the Post-Pandemic Future of the Profession
Despite the difficulties this school year brought, the four finalists for the National Teacher of the Year award say they're hopeful.
11 min read
National Teacher of the Year Finalists (clockwise from top left): Alejandro Diasgranados, Juliana Urtubey, John Arthur, Maureen Stover
National Teacher of the Year Finalists (clockwise from top left): Alejandro Diasgranados, Juliana Urtubey, John Arthur, Maureen Stover
Courtesy of CCSSO
Teaching Profession Teachers Are Stressed Out, and It's Causing Some to Quit
Stress, more so than low pay, is the main reason public school teachers quit. And COVID-19 has increased the pressure.
7 min read
Image of exit doors.
pavel_balanenko/iStock/Getty
Teaching Profession Opinion Should Teachers Be Prioritized for the COVID-19 Vaccine?
Not all states are moving teachers to the front of the vaccination line. Researchers discuss the implications for in-person learning.
6 min read
Teacher Lizbeth Osuna from Cooper Elementary receives the Moderna vaccine at a CPS vaccination site at Roberto Clemente High School in Chicago, Ill., Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021.
Chicago public school teacher Lizbeth Osuna receives the COVID-19 vaccine at a school vaccination site last week.
Anthony Vazquez/Chicago Sun-Times via AP