Yesterday, Sawchuk referred to a research brief published by the National Education Writers Association (EWA) entitled What Studies Say About Teacher Effectiveness. His brief summation was without opinion, so I thought I’d add mine to what is to be my first post to Edukwest.
Sawchuk, who wrote the brief and is an EWA member, states in his blog post that his key points are based on solid research of the evidence (bold added to show emphasis). This phrase made me want to investigate further into the type of data that were gathered to conduct such as study. Focusing primarily on the first research question (Are teachers the most important factor affecting student achievement?), the following are some specific points that emerged from the research brief.
- Nearly all of the studies cited here rely on the use of student test scores as a proxy for learning…standardized tests measure important aspects of student learning…
- The brief draws on a review of over 40 specific research studies or research syntheses, as well as interviews with scholars who have used primarily quantitative research methods to analyze the relationships between teachers, their attributes, and student achievement.
- Findings: Research has shown that the variation in student achievement is predominantly a product of individual and family background characteristics. Of the school factors that have been isolated for study, teachers are probably the most important determinants of how students will perform on standardized tests. – Doesn’t this point undermine the use of standardized tests for measuring student learning?
- This brief was made possible in part by support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
So, the experts suggest that measuring student learning (to a degree) can occur through administering standardized tests to students and that teachers can be a determinant in how well students perform on such tests, but that the variation of student achievement comes mainly from the learner and family background? Note: this research was funded in part by the Gates foundation which has been criticized in the past for relying solely on standardized tests as a means for evaluating schools, students, teachers, etc.
Why not instead invest in research that looks at learner attributes and family background and what other educational stakeholders (e.g., teachers, other students, family, administrators, and community leaders) can do to contribute to the myriad of factors that directly and indirectly influence higher student achievement. Research how teachers can create the discourse among all educational stakeholders that fosters a more productive learning ecosystem around each learner. Teachers matter because they have the opportunity to connect content, ideas, and individuals in ways that research that is based strictly on cause-and-effect relationships cannot measure. Yes, this type of research is more complex, but researching human behavior – like student achievement – is a complex endeavor that requires not only quantitative inferences but also qualitative data that explicitly describes, explains, and offers deep, interpretive insight into the contextual learning process.
What do you think? In today’s digital age, are teachers the most important factor affecting student achievement? Are teachers more or less of a factor if they are teaching a distance course (100% online)?