What does pre-service teacher quality tell us about entry and retention in the profession?

It is often difficult for school and district leadership to identify high-quality teachers who will remain in the classroom, especially among those who are just entering the profession and in the first years of employment. However, a recent study by Robert Vagi, Margarita Pivovarova and Wendy Miedel Barnard suggests that examining a prospective teacher’s instructional practice scores during student teaching could prove useful.

This study adds to a small but growing body of literature that uses data from teachers’ preservice training to better understand how they fare in the classroom after graduation. The authors were interested in whether a measure of preservice teacher quality could predict entry and retention in the profession. Data included over 1,100 graduates of a teacher preparation program housed at a large, state university and included information collected by the university and graduates’ employment using data from the state department of education. Students enrolled in this program complete a year-long student teaching residency that enables them to enter the labor force with the professional experience of a second-year teacher. During the residency, student teachers receive four formal observations by university-trained coaches who assign them evidence-based scores that are later combined into an overall score of effectiveness. This comprehensive score is based on several indicators including student teachers’ instructional and professional practices. Student teachers are expected to respond to their coach’s feedback after each observation and demonstrate improvement over time. Researchers used the score from preservice teachers’ final assessments as an indicator of overall quality and readiness to enter the profession.

Results show that student teachers had different probabilities of entering and staying in the profession depending on their preservice performance scores. For instance, a high-performing student teacher was 7 percentage points more likely to enter the profession compared to a low-performing student teacher. Similarly, among student teachers who were employed upon graduation, a high-performer was 3 percentage points less likely than a low-performer to leave in the first two years of employment. These differences remained stable even after authors accounted for a variety of teacher and school characteristics.

Findings provide some initial evidence that both preparing and recruiting higher-quality preservice teachers into the profession may ultimately help reduce teacher turnover. Data on preservice teachers’ instructional practices are related to important outcomes like employment and retention, while factors such as demographics and grades prior to student teaching are only weak indicators of preservice teachers’ improvement over time. Observational measures of preservice teachers’ practices, combined with targeted coaching and timely feedback, can be instrumental in teacher preparation programs’ efforts to prepare high-quality teachers who are more likely to enter and stay in the profession. In addition, school districts might use these data on instructional practices to make more informed hiring decisions.


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