What Makes Good Teachers Good? A Cross-Case Analysis of the Connection between Teacher Effectiveness and Student Achievement

Article excerpt

The question of what constitutes effective teaching has been researched for decades. However, changes in assessment strategies, the availability of newer statistical methodologies, and access to large databases of student achievement information, as well as the ability to manipulate these data, merit a careful review of how effective teachers are identified and how their work is examined. A better understanding of what constitutes teacher effectiveness has significant implications for decision making regarding the preparation, recruitment, compensation, inservice professional development, and evaluation of teachers. If an administrator seeks to hire effective or, at least, promising teachers, for example, she or he needs to understand what characterizes them. Recently, educators have begun to emphasize the importance of linking teacher effectiveness to various aspects of teacher education and district or school personnel administration, including

1. identifying the knowledge and skills preservice teachers need,

2. recruiting and inducting potentially effective teachers,

3. designing and implementing professional development,

4. conducting valid and credible evaluations of teachers, and

5. dismissing ineffective teachers while retaining effective ones (Darling-Hammond & Bransford, 2005; Hanushek, 2008; National Academy of Education, 2008; Odden, 2004).

This type of alignment is receiving increasing attention as an important means for providing quality education to all students and improving school performance.

This study examined the measurable impact that individual teachers have on student achievement. Using residual student learning gains, the study investigated how effective teachers (i.e., teachers whose students experience high academic growth) differ from less effective teachers (teachers whose students experience less academic growth) in a single year. Classroom differences between effective and less effective teachers were examined in terms of both their teaching behaviors and their students' classroom behaviors. The purposes of this study were, first, to examine the impact that teachers had on student learning and, then, to examine the instructional practices and behaviors of effective teachers. In an effort to address these essential questions, we engaged in a two-phase study.

Phase I: To what degree do teachers have a positive, measurable effect on student achievement?

Phase II: How do instructional practices and behaviors differ between effective and less effective teachers based on student learning gains?

Background

Effectiveness is an elusive concept to define when we consider the complex task of teaching and the multitude of contexts in which teachers work. In discussing teacher preparation and the qualities of effective teachers, Lewis et al. (1999) aptly noted that "teacher quality is a complex phenomenon, and there is little consensus on what it is or how to measure it" (para. 3). In fact, there is considerable debate as to whether we should judge teacher effectiveness based on teacher inputs (e.g., qualifications), the teaching process (e.g., instructional practices), the product of teaching (e.g., effects on student learning), or a composite of these elements.

This study focused first on identifying those teachers who were successful in the product of teaching, namely, student achievement, and then it focused on an examination of the teaching process. Four dimensions that characterize teacher effectiveness synthesized from a meta-review of extant research and literature (Strange, 2002, 2007) were used as the conceptual framework for the study. The first two dimensions related to effective teaching practice, including instructional effectiveness and the use of assessment for student learning. The next two dimensions related to a positive learning environment, including the classroom environment itself and the personal qualities of the teacher. …