I’ve spent some time mulling through the “Learning About Teaching” report of initial findings from the Gates Foundation funded Measures of Effective Teaching Project.

The team of researchers working on the project includes a wide range of views and perspectives, including some people whose work I highly respect. The team was very careful to address many of the major complaints against use of value added measures. For example, with assistance from RAND, over a two-year process, the teachers and students were randomly assigned, and no teacher in the study was made to teach in a subject, grade level, or school to which s/he had not been assigned during the previous year (when baseline data was collected). In the real world attempts to use value-added measures, this is often not the case.

To its credit, the team also sought to incorporate several other types of measures. For example, the study introduces an instrument to help measure teachers’ pedagogical knowledge, not just their content knowledge. Also, the inclusion of the TRIPOD student survey developed by Ron Ferguson of Harvard is unique, as is the survey of the participating teachers to collect data on their working conditions.

The team states that much more analysis and more conclusions are forthcoming, but I thought some of these preliminary findings are of particular interest:

1) “Teachers who raise student performance on standardized tests are also raising the students’ conceptual understanding of the subject matter.”

I prefer to state that in reverse: When teachers are allowed to teach students to understand the subject, to learn deeply rather than just to memorize content, the students will be able to perform well on any type of assessment or task that may be placed before them.

2) “…the above pattern implies that schooling itself may have little impact on standard reading comprehension assessments after 3rd grade. But literacy involves more than reading comprehension. As the Common Core State Standards recently adopted in many states remind us, it includes writing as well. In fact, English teachers after grade 4 generally focus more on writing than teaching children to read” (pg. 20). Depending on how that point is taken by policymakers, it could help or hurt the movement for more comprehensive approach to literacy in schools.

Again, the research team admits that this work is just beginning and from this one study, we should be cautious about drawing too many important conclusions prematurely. The researcher in me finds their approach interesting; the teacher wonders when the other shoe will drop.

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