Study: Elementary educators' effectiveness varies by subject
- Just because an elementary teacher is rated highly in one subject doesn’t mean he or she is as effective an educator in other content areas, according to a new study in AERA Open, a journal published by the American Educational Research Association.
- Researchers from the University of Virginia and Temple University examined data from the large Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) study, sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. MET used the Tripod 7Cs Survey and the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) to determine teacher quality in math and English language arts (ELA).
- They found that while there was a moderate level of consistency across subjects on the Tripod Survey — which relies on student perspectives — there was more variation between teachers’ ratings on the CLASS, which is completed by trained outside raters, for math and ELA. The findings “raise questions about the common assumption that teachers who are skilled when teaching one subject are similarly skilled in other subjects,” the researchers write, adding that most teacher evaluation policies don’t allow for “sampling across subjects for elementary teachers.”
Observing and evaluating teachers has become a much larger part of a school administrator’s job. But this study suggests that if principals or other evaluators only see teachers during the ELA portion of the day, they may miss out on important information about how teachers organize math lessons, or vice versa. Additionally, teachers might not gain feedback that can help them improve their quality of instruction, which directly impacts the quality of education a student receives. The researchers also write that depending on the evaluation system, teachers may be “rewarded or sanctioned for instructional quality that is specific to a particular subject rather than more generalizable to their teaching as a whole.”
The researchers also raise questions about whether schools should consider having teachers be content specialists, even in elementary schools, as some schools have done. “More research is needed to better understand the affordances and constraints of moving to a departmentalized model in elementary school,” they write. Finally, they note that the study has implications for teacher education and professional development programs if researchers can identify the features that contribute to high-quality instruction across different subject areas.