John Fensterwald, writing for California’s EdSource, recently reviewed a study of 156 California districts that ‘beat the odds’ in student achievement for underserved students and distilled the characteristics of those districts that had the most impact on results. Excerpts of the piece appear below:
Research released this week identified 156 California school districts with higher test scores in math and English language arts than expected for African-American and Hispanic students, and found that teacher experience was the common factor that contributed to the higher results.
“The research finds that providing students with qualified, fully prepared teachers is a critical component for raising student achievement,” said Anne Podolsky, lead author on the report, “California’s Positive Outliers: Districts Beating the Odds,” by the Palo-Alto based Learning Policy Institute. Other co-authors included Sean Reardon, professor at the Stanford University School of Education, and the institute’s CEO and president, Linda Darling-Hammond.
In analyzing the data, researchers found that factors often linked to success — overall per-pupil expenditures and teacher-student ratios — after controlling for teacher qualifications, don’t contribute to higher achievement. Teacher salaries do, but not significantly.
What did matter was teacher qualifications, particularly the preparedness of teachers. “We find that the percent of teachers holding substandard credentials is significantly and negatively associated with student achievement,” the study found. For every 10 percent increase in the percentage of teachers with emergency and intern credentials, there was a statistically significant drop in average achievement for Hispanic and African-American students. It amounted to 0.10 standard deviations, which translates, the researchers said, to a loss of about a month of learning.
Previous studies by the institute found that African-American and Hispanic students are assigned a disproportionate share of inexperienced teachers. A continual churn of inexperienced teachers compounds districts’ challenges in training teachers in the state’s academic standards and in building the systems of support the state is counting on to narrow student achievement gaps, Darling-Hammond said in an interview.