Teacher Qualifications and Student Performance: A Review Thesis

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Teacher Qualifications and Student Performance: A Review of NCLB-Related studies

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Among the educational reforms undertaken by local, state, and federal governments in the last half century, there has perhaps been none as important, far-reaching, and ambitious as the "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) Act passed into law in January, 2002. This legislation was the culmination of more than two decades of work towards improving school and teacher accountability through measuring student progress toward learning outcomes in order to improve American education relative to that of other nations. Through the implementation of standardized assessments with all students at all levels of elementary and secondary education, the reform was intended to provide data that would help determine how schools were performing relative to others in their states, how teachers were performing relative others in their schools, and how students were performing relative to defined learning objectives. The intent of the law was to structure an oversight system in which suitable performance would be defined at the state and local levels (albeit with federal oversight) and performance against standards for both individuals and institutions would be either rewarded or repaired through intervention programs. Because of the implications of the law for everything from special education to teacher salaries to student graduation rates to school budgeting concerns, it had immediate and wide-spread impact on the American educational system. The response which the law's implementation engendered was equally wide-spread, and a broad diversity of opinions arose concerning its effectiveness in achieving the intended goals.

Thesis on Teacher Qualifications and Student Performance: A Review Assignment

Among the most important issues addressed in the legislation, and consequently among the issues which has received the most debated attention, is the role of teacher qualifications in the education process. Although the ultimate goal of the law was to improve student achievement and to ensure that all students receive a quality education, the coupling of this achievement with teacher performance and qualifications led some to believe that teachers were being scapegoated for poor student performance where it existed. Even when such blame was not made explicit, as Kimmelman (2006) points out, "teachers who had taught for many years were being required to demonstrate subject matter competency in the core academic subjects they taught" (2). Of course, such a requirement might be justifiable if there exists a demonstrated research link between teacher qualifications and student performance. But is there such a link? In the years following the implementation of NCLB much research has been conducted in order to determine where teacher qualifications are in fact related to student performance and if the teacher performance component of the law is therefore justified.

In this paper, the question of how teacher qualifications have been shown to be linked to student performance under the auspices of the NCLB regime will be reviewed. The research literature will be considered in order to find data-driven studies that address the importance of teacher qualifications to student achievement. The requirement for data-driven studies is crucial. Traditional methods (pre-NCLB) for evaluating teacher qualifications included such factors as:

1. Characteristics deduced by a theory

2. Characteristics determined by the pupils

3. Characteristics defined by specialists

4. Characteristics derived from the functional analysis of the teacher

5. Characteristics derived from a role analysis of the teacher

6. Empirical research on teacher characteristics

7. Predictive research of teacher characteristics. (Schlusmans, 1978, 19-20)

These methods may, in fact, still be theoretically valid for determining an individual teacher's qualifications relative to other teachers. However, of these methods, only the final two speak to the role of data in addressing teacher qualifications. NCLB makes it clear that teachers will be qualified by reference to "objective" means such as participation in certification programs and performance on state assessments that measure their knowledge of core content in the academic subjects they teach, as well as on assessments of competence based around performance relative to predefined teaching standards (U.S. Department of Education, 2006). Ultimately, then, teachers will also be judged by their student's own standardized testing scores. Therefore, this paper will focus on research measuring the connection between teacher qualifications, as determined in a variety of ways found in the literature, and student assessment scores.

Statement of the Problem

Because of the key role that measuring the connection between student assessment scores and teacher qualifications plays in determining such factors school performance and teacher pay, this study will focus on that connection. Research which has been conducted to measure the connection will be reviewed, analyzed, and summarized. Important teacher qualification factors that are shown to be linked to higher student assessment scores (or, alternately, shown to be irrelevant) will be highlighted. Therefore, this study will consist entirely of a research compilation study designed to determine how teacher qualifications are linked to student assessment.

This research is believed to be important because it lies at the heart of the NCLB's education agenda. By recognizing how teacher qualifications, as measured in a variety of ways, impact student assessments, both teachers and schools can adjust their employment/hiring strategies, their classroom instruction approaches, and the like. It should be pointed out, as David Berliner (2005) has, that the measuring of teacher qualifications faces a number of inherent interpretive and cultural complications making standardization and measurement "near impossible." However, for the purposes of this study no judgments are made about the efficacy of linking teacher qualifications to student performance, or the validity of measuring teacher qualifications in the first place. Rather, this study will merely provide a summary analysis of the research data as it relates to the issue at hand.

Review of the Related Literature

Because of the importance that linking teacher qualifications and student assessment has taken on since the passage of NCLB, the researcher believed it was important to review at least one research study which measured the link before the law was passed. Linda Darling-Hammond (2000) used data taken from survey analysis and case studies in each of the 50 states measuring "teacher quality," and compared this data to student performances on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The study involved the inclusion of both qualitative and quantitative data designed to measure whether factors related to teacher qualifications were positively correlated to student assessment scores. Darling-Hammond first determined whether states had policy programs in place designed to control and enhance teacher qualifications, and then attempted to achieve a relative rank of these states, so that the states which were more directly involved in regulating teacher qualifications were identifiable. She then compared assessment scores and relative improvement of scores to determine whether those states which were involved in regulating teacher qualifications scored better on assessments. She found that, even when controlling for such factors as assessment scores reported for special education and immigrant populations, the differences between assessment scores in states which did not strictly emphasize qualifications and those which did were impressive. She then computed correlational analysis between the NAEP and a national database indicating staff assessment scores and found strong and significant associations between teacher qualifications and assessment.

As the Darling-Hammond study showed, the difficulties of measuring teacher qualifications can be daunting due to the diversity of approaches taken. Therefore the researcher thought it advisable to consider a study focusing on specific sites within given school districts in order to determine whether the teachers in such school districts considered to be better qualified in fact have students with higher assessment scores. Milanowski, Kimball, and White (2004) conducted a "standards-based" evaluation of teacher qualification and performance ratings within the Cincinnati Public School District, the Washoe County (Nevada) School District, and a learning center in San Fernando, California. Utilizing standardized teacher evaluation scores from each of the three subject sites, and measuring that against student achievement scores, the authors found that, even when controlling for such factors as teacher experience and student poverty, higher teacher evaluations (presumably indicative of higher teacher qualifications) were positively correlated to higher student performance on assessment scores. In fact, the researchers found, specifically, that more years of experience actually had a negative impact on score achievement, while qualification ratings were effectively associated with higher scores.

Boyd et al. (2008) consider the gap in New York City teacher qualifications between high poverty schools and others in order to determine whether student scores in those schools were associated with qualifications. They argue that the gap between teacher qualifications across NYC schools is narrowing due to a sorting process relevant to NCLB requirements, and their goal is to determine whether this sorting process has meant that students in high poverty schools which have previously seen poor performance due to poor teacher qualifications now in fact have improve performance with the arrival of better qualified teachers. The researchers constructed a database of student exam scores and lagged scores, with comparative data for each student relative to special needs, ethnic and language issues, and other demographic characteristics. They then linked that data to an "enriched" data file for teachers with measures such as certification status, experience, standardized test scores, and the like. Finally, they related these data sets to… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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