Academic journal article McGill Sociological Review

Teacher Quality and Student Achievement: A Multilevel Analysis of Teacher Credentialization and Student Test Scores in California High Schools

Academic journal article McGill Sociological Review

Teacher Quality and Student Achievement: A Multilevel Analysis of Teacher Credentialization and Student Test Scores in California High Schools

Article excerpt

Student achievement is one of the strongest predictors of future income (Hanushek 2011; Hanushek and Woessman 2009; Hanushek and Zhang 2009; Lazear 2003; Mulligan 1999), but there is a persistent achievement gap among racial and socioeconomic lines in the U-S., with minority and poor students not performing as well as their white or wealthy peers (Barton and Coley 2009). Several factors contribute to these achievement gaps, but those with the largest impact-and also those most easily remedied by policy changes-are school factors such as adjustments to curriculum, class size, availability of technology, teacher preparation and experience (Barton and Coley 2009). Teacher quality, in particular, is seen as the most important variable affecting student achievement, even more so than demographic factors (Darling-Hammond 2000).

However, there is a significant discrepancy in access to high quality teachers: minority and low-income students in the U.S are less likely to be taught by certified teachers (Clotfelter, Ladd, and Vigdor 2006, 2007a, 2007b, 2010) and are more likely to be taught by inexperienced teachers (Barton and Coley 2009). This discrepancy in access to high quality teachers contributes to the achievement gap between racial and socioeconomic groups (Clotfelter et al 2010). More disconcerting is that, not only have these discrepancies in access to equal educational resources remained consistent over time, but in many cases-such as with access to certified teachers-the gaps are widening (Barton and Coley 2009). These achievement gaps persist despite an elevated priority among politicians in redressing them (Barton and Coley 2009).

To better understand the correlated discrepancies in student achievement and access to quality teachers, it is useful to re-examine the relationship between those two factors. Although there is strong theoretical support for the connection between teacher quality and student performance (see DarlingHammond 2000; Prince 2002), Stinchcombe's (1987) assertion of the need for multiple tests of theories in order to improve their robustness and applicability holds in this case. It is beneficial to test these relationships in different contexts using different methods, especially since many extant studies in the sociology of education are focused on elementary schools and rely on correlation analyses or simple regression techniques to analyze the relationship between these variables. Given the nested nature of most social phenomena, particularly those in the education realm, a more reliable estimator of the relationship between teacher quality and student achievement requires multilevel modeling techniques-particularly those that employ fixed effects, which is necessary to mitigate "one of the most serious statistical problems associated with the measurement of teacher effectiveness, namely the fact that teachers are not randomly distributed" across schools or classrooms, and thus, are not randomly distributed across students (Clotfelter et al 2010:657).

I therefore employ multilevel regression models with fixed effects to assess the relationship between teacher quality and student performance in California high schools, considering both schoollevel (Level 1) and district-level (Level 2) factors. I explore two research questions. First, do schools with higher percentages of credentialed teachers have higher percentages of students who achieve proficiency on state-issued reading exams? Second, do schools with higher percentages of credentialed teachers have higher percentages of students who achieve proficiency on state-issued mathematics exams? I find support that teacher credentialization is positively associated with student performance in both reading and mathematics. This reaffirms the need for policy makers seeking to close the student achievement gaps to focus on providing all students equal access to credentialed teachers.

Theoretical Context

Teacher Quality and Student Achievement

Sociology of education researchers have long debated the impact of school resources on student performance. …

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