In Los Angeles Unified, novice teachers tend to be assigned students who are academically farther behind those assigned to experienced teachers. Before they depart, usually after only two years, Teach for America teachers have a bigger impact on students than that of other new teachers. And National Board Certified teachers significantly outperform other teachers in LAUSD.
These are among the findings of an extensive six-year study of about a third of teachers in LAUSD by the Strategic Data Project, which is affiliated with the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University. Researchers have conducted similar analyses of teacher recruitment, development and retention patterns in three dozen school districts and charter organizations nationwide, under work funded by the Gates Foundation. LAUSD’s report, which was released Wednesday, could become a key resource as the district and United Teachers Los Angeles negotiate changes to teacher evaluations and other parts of the teachers’ contract.
The finding with perhaps the biggest implication quantified significant disparities in effectiveness among the district’s elementary and middle school teachers, as measured by students’ standardized test scores. Researchers found that the difference between a math teacher in the 75th percentile – those whose students performed better than three quarters of other students – and a teacher in the 25th percentile was the roughly equivalent benefit to a student of having eight additional months of instruction in a calendar year (technically one quarter of a standard deviation). The differences were greater than the average of the other districts studied nationwide, although similar to the differences found in San Diego Unified. The study covered only 30 percent of teachers in the district – those whose students take the California Standards Tests, primarily elementary and middle school teachers. The differences between teachers whose students take the English language arts tests were less pronounced than with math.
Researchers used a method similar to the district’s controversial Academic Growth over Time, which factors in students’ past test scores and socioeconomic background to determine their teachers’ impact. LAUSD has used the method to rate individual teachers. Because ratings fluctuate significantly year to year, the method has been criticized as a tool for evaluating teachers. But Jon Fullerton, director of the Center for Education Policy Research, said that the method is useful for aggregate trends using group averages of teacher effectiveness – comparing novice and experienced teachers, or measuring the effectiveness of teachers with advanced academic degrees.
Drew Furedi, LAUSD’s executive director for talent management, acknowledged in an interview that test scores are just one of the multiple measures the district will use to measure effectiveness. But the data in the report, he said, most immediately “will help our understanding of placement strategies and distribution challenges in the system.”
Among other findings:
- New teachers hired through Teach for America and the district’s own Career Ladder program, encouraging paraprofessionals to become teachers, have a positive effect – equal to two months and one month extra of instruction respectively in math – compared with other novice teachers. However, about two-thirds of Teach for America teachers, recruited from top colleges nationwide, leave the district after the program’s required two years, while more Career Ladder teachers continue on – a factor LAUSD will want to consider. Over the past several year, about one out of eight teachers were hired through the two programs. Furedi said that the district may do a similar analysis of other teacher preparation programs.
- Novice and early career elementary teachers disproportionately are assigned struggling students – those entering the year an average of six months behind their peers. Novices not only are disproportionately assigned to schools with lower achieving students, but also are given more struggling students than experienced teachers within schools. Since experienced teachers on average are more effective, “this is a call to action, for better strategic placement of teachers for student outcomes,” Fullerton said Wednesday in a webinar announcing the results.
- Math teachers in LAUSD improve substantially over time in the classroom – roughly equal to an additional three months of instruction by their fifth year. Improvement in English language arts is less dramatic.
- Even though they are automatically paid more under the current salary system, LAUSD teachers with advanced academic degrees are no more effective than those who lack them. However, teachers with a National Board Certification outperform other teachers, by roughly two months of additional math instruction and one month of additional ELA instruction over a year. This could reflect the benefits of the program or the quality of the teachers who pursue certification, the study said. Only about 4 percent of LAUSD teachers have board certification, and most of those teach in high-performing schools, indicating the district may want to encourage placement in schools with greater needs.
- In a finding with implications for a state law and district policy requiring layoffs by seniority, the study found that teachers who were laid off in LAUSD as a result of budget cuts were about as effective as teachers who kept their jobs. Since most of the laid-off teachers were less experienced, a slightly higher proportion – 55 percent – were in the bottom two quartiles of performance. However, that also meant that 45 percent of those let go were in the top two quartiles of performers, who, under a more rigorous evaluation system deemphasizing seniority, might retain their jobs.