It is well understood that good teachers produce better student achievement. What is not well agreed upon is the “how, what, where, when, and why” of this important driver of school success. How exactly do teachers improve student achievement?
Most recently, a study of the MTEL licensure tests in Massachusetts found that the tests were—NATIONAL COUNCIL ON TEACHER QUALITY, 2021
predictive of teachers’ value-added scores as well as their evaluation ratings. Moreover, the
MTEL scores were more strongly predictive of teacher performance ratings for teachers of
color than they were for White teachers. 7 The MTEL tests include both a basic skills test and a
content knowledge test specific to the candidate’s certification area.
Licensure Tests like the one quoted above help us to look into what it takes for teachers to start their career with the knowledge of good teaching. The difference in education often comes down to the reality of 50 states giving 50 tests, 50 different preparation programs, and 50 different outcomes for teacher preparation. And some states set the bar for passing lower, meaning that more teachers pass their test. This does not mean that the tests are useless, but it does mean that comparing states is hard to do easily.
Comparing the approach to 50 states to teacher preparation proves equally hard. Some states need many more teachers than they can prepare and some states prepare more teachers than they need. The amount of teachers prepared to teach in the US is equal to the number of jobs, but, those jobs are not necessarily in the same area of the preparation institution, or even in the same state. The most rigorous institutions provide a master’s level preparation but not all of these are done correctly. And many teachers prepare to teach through enrollment at the undergraduate level, declaring teaching as their major.
Teacher Professional Development
Then there is the professional development provided to teachers working in schools. Most of this is done in a standardized format where all teachers involved receive the same training once a month and are expected to implement the new teaching in their own classrooms without much follow-up or support.
Teacher Growth and Student Achievement
Which brings us to the idea of teacher growth that is beginning to take hold in districts all over America. Supporting their growth means supporting teachers from the moment they enroll in their teacher preparation program, through licensure, during placement, and throughout the professional journey teaching our wonderful children. What this does for student achievement is to make it dependant on teachers who are continuously learning—just the same as our students. If we expect student achievement to improve, we must hire and support teachers who want to continuously learn as well, and that means we need to change the professional activities of teachers so that there is time to learn about their profession every day and time to interact with other teachers in a variety of collaborative teaming groups. As we develop teachers their students will benefit and their achievement will increase.