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Teaching for Excellence and Equity pp 7–17 Cite as

A Review of the Literature on Teacher Effectiveness and Student Outcomes

  • Nathan Burroughs 25 ,
  • Jacqueline Gardner 26 ,
  • Youngjun Lee 27 ,
  • Siwen Guo 28 ,
  • Israel Touitou 29 ,
  • Kimberly Jansen 30 &
  • William Schmidt 31  
  • Open Access
  • First Online: 24 May 2019

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Part of the IEA Research for Education book series (IEAR,volume 6)

Researchers agree that teachers are one of the most important school-based resources in determining students’ future academic success and lifetime outcomes, yet have simultaneously had difficulties in defining what teacher characteristics make for an effective teacher. This chapter reviews the large body of literature on measures of teacher effectiveness, underscoring the diversity of methods by which the general construct of “teacher quality” has been explored, including experience, professional knowledge, and opportunity to learn. Each of these concepts comprises a number of different dimensions and methods of operationalizing. Single-country research (and particularly research from the United States) is distinguished from genuinely comparative work. Despite a voluminous research literature on the question of teacher quality, evidence for the impact of teacher characteristics (experience and professional knowledge) on student outcomes remains quite limited. There is a smaller, but more robust set of findings for the effect of teacher support on opportunity to learn. Five measures may be associated with higher student achievement: teacher experience (measured by years of teaching), teacher professional knowledge (measured by education and self-reported preparation to teach mathematics), and teacher provision of opportunity to learn (measured by time on mathematics and content coverage). These factors provide the basis for a comparative cross-country model.

  • Opportunity to learn
  • Teacher education
  • Teacher experience
  • Teacher quality
  • Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS)

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2.1 Defining Teacher Effectiveness

Researchers agree that teachers are one of the most important school-based resources in determining students’ future academic success and lifetime outcomes (Chetty et al. 2014 ; Rivkin et al. 2005 ; Rockoff 2004 ). As a consequence, there has been a strong emphasis on improving teacher effectiveness as a means to enhancing student learning. Goe ( 2007 ), among others, defined teacher effectiveness in terms of growth in student learning, typically measured by student standardized assessment results. Chetty et al. ( 2014 ) found that students taught by highly effective teachers, as defined by the student growth percentile (SGPs) and value-added measures (VAMs), were more likely to attend college, earn more, live in higher-income neighborhoods, save more money for retirement, and were less likely to have children during their teenage years. This potential of a highly effective teacher to significantly enhance the lives of their students makes it essential that researchers and policymakers properly understand the factors that contribute to a teacher’s effectiveness. However, as we will discuss in more detail later in this report, studies have found mixed results regarding the relationships between specific teacher characteristics and student achievement (Wayne and Youngs 2003 ). In this chapter, we explore these findings, focusing on the three main categories of teacher effectiveness identified and examined in the research literature: namely, teacher experience, teacher knowledge, and teacher behavior. Here we emphasize that much of the existing body of research is based on studies from the United States, and so the applicability of such national research to other contexts remains open to discussion.

2.2 Teacher Experience

Teacher experience refers to the number of years that a teacher has worked as a classroom teacher. Many studies show a positive relationship between teacher experiences and student achievement (Wayne and Youngs 2003 ). For example, using data from 4000 teachers in North Carolina, researchers found that teacher experience was positively related to student achievement in both reading and mathematics (Clotfelter et al. 2006 ). Rice ( 2003 ) found that the relationship between teacher experience and student achievement was most pronounced for students at the secondary level. Additional work in schools in the United States by Wiswall ( 2013 ), Papay and Kraft ( 2015 ), and Ladd and Sorenson ( 2017 ), and a Dutch twin study by Gerritsen et al. ( 2014 ), also indicated that teacher experience had a cumulative effect on student outcomes.

Meanwhile, other studies have failed to identify consistent and statistically significant associations between student achievement and teacher experience (Blomeke et al. 2016 ; Gustaffsson and Nilson 2016 ; Hanushek and Luque 2003 ; Luschei and Chudgar 2011 ; Wilson and Floden 2003 ). Some research from the United States has indicated that experience matters very much early on in a teacher’s career, but that, in later years, there were little to no additional gains (Boyd et al. 2006 ; Rivkin et al. 2005 ; Staiger and Rockoff 2010 ). In the first few years of a teacher’s career, accruing more years of experience seems to be more strongly related to student achievement (Rice 2003 ). Rockoff ( 2004 ) found that, when comparing teacher effectiveness (understood as value-added) to student test scores in reading and mathematics, teacher experience was positively related to student mathematics achievement; however, such positive relationships leveled off after teachers had gained two years of teaching experience. Drawing on data collected from teachers of grades four to eight between 2000 and 2008 within a large urban school district in the United States, Papay and Kraft ( 2015 ) confirmed previous research on the benefits experience can add to a novice teacher’s career. They found that student outcomes increased most rapidly during their teachers’ first few years of employment. They also found some further student gains due to additional years of teaching experience beyond the first five years. The research of Pil and Leana ( 2009 ) adds additional nuance; they found that acquiring teacher experience at the same grade level over a number of years, not just teacher experience in general (i.e. at multiple grades), was positively related to student achievement.

2.3 Teacher Professional Knowledge

A teacher’s professional knowledge refers to their subject-matter knowledge, curricular knowledge, and pedagogical knowledge (Collinson 1999 ). This professional knowledge is influenced by the undergraduate degrees earned by a teacher, the college attended, graduate studies undertaken, and opportunities to engage with on-the job training, commonly referred to as professional development (Collinson 1999 ; Rice 2003 ; Wayne and Youngs 2003 ). After undertaking in-depth quantitative analyses of the United States’ 1993–1994 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) and National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data sets, Darling-Hammond ( 2000 ) argued that measures of teacher preparation and certification were by far the strongest correlates of student achievement in reading and mathematics, after controlling for student poverty levels and language status.

As with experience, research on the impact of teacher advanced degrees, subject specializations, and certification has been inconclusive, with several studies (Aaronson et al. 2007 ; Blomeke et al. 2016 ; Hanushek and Luque 2003 ; Harris and Sass 2011 ; Luschei and Chudgar 2011 ) suggesting weak, inconsistent, or non-significant relationships with student achievement. However, several international studies comparing country means found that teacher degrees (Akiba et al. 2007 ; Gustaffsson and Nilson 2016 ; Montt 2011 ) were related to student outcomes, as did Woessman’s ( 2003 ) student-level study of multiple countries.

2.3.1 Undergraduate Education

In their meta-analysis of teacher effectiveness, Wayne and Youngs ( 2003 ) found three studies that showed some relationship between the quality of the undergraduate institution that a teacher attended and their future students’ success in standardized tests. In a thorough review of the research on teacher effectiveness attributes, Rice ( 2003 ) found that the selectivity of undergraduate institution and the teacher preparation program may be related to student achievement for students at the high school level and for high-poverty students.

In terms of teacher preparation programs, Boyd et al. ( 2009 ) found that overall these programs varied in their effectiveness. In their study of 31 teacher preparation programs designed to prepare teachers for the New York City School District, Boyd et al. ( 2009 ) drew from data based on document analyses, interviews, surveys of teacher preparation instructors, surveys of participants and graduates, and student value-added scores. They found that if a program was effective in preparing teachers to teach one subject, it tended to also have success in preparing teachers to teach other subjects as well. They also found that teacher preparation programs that focused on the practice of teaching and the classroom, and provided opportunities for teachers to study classroom practices, tended to prepare more effective teachers. Finally, they found that programs that included some sort of final project element (such as a personal research paper, or portfolio presentation) tended to prepare more effective teachers.

Beyond the institution a teacher attends, the coursework they choose to take within that program may also be related to their future students’ achievement. These associations vary by subject matter. A study by Rice ( 2003 ) indicated that, for teachers teaching at the secondary level, subject-specific coursework had a greater impact on their future students’ achievement. Similarly Goe ( 2007 ) found that, for mathematics, an increase in the amount of coursework undertaken by a trainee teacher was positively related to their future students’ achievement. By contrast, the meta-analysis completed by Wayne and Youngs ( 2003 ) found that, for history and English teachers, there was no evidence of a relationship between a teacher’s undergraduate coursework and their future students’ achievement in those subjects.

2.3.2 Graduate Education

In a review of 14 studies, Wilson and Floden ( 2003 ) were unable to identify consistent relationships between a teacher’s level of education and their students’ achievement. Similarly, in their review of data from 4000 teachers in North Carolina, Clotfelter et al. ( 2006 ) found that teachers who held a master’s degree were associated with lower student achievement. However, specifically in terms of mathematics instruction, teachers with higher degrees and who undertook more coursework during their education seem to be positively related to their students’ mathematics achievement (Goe 2007 ). Likewise, Harris and Sass ( 2011 ) found that there was a positive relationship between teachers who had obtained an advanced degree during their teaching career and their students’ achievement in middle school mathematics. They did not find any significant relationships between advanced degrees and student achievement in any other subject area. Further, using data from the United States’ Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS-K), Phillips ( 2010 ) found that subject-specific graduate degrees in elementary or early-childhood education were positively related to students’ reading achievement gains.

2.3.3 Certification Status

Another possible indicator of teacher effectiveness could be whether or not a teacher holds a teaching certificate. Much of this research has focused on the United States, which uses a variety of certification approaches, with lower grades usually having multi-subject general certifications and higher grades requiring certification in specific subjects. Wayne and Youngs ( 2003 ) found no clear relationship between US teachers’ certification status and their students’ achievement, with the exception of the subject area of mathematics, where students tended have higher test scores when their teachers had a standard mathematics certification. Rice ( 2003 ) also found that US teacher certification was related to high school mathematics achievement, and also found that there was some evidence of a relationship between certification status and student achievement in lower grades. Meanwhile, in their study of grade one students, Palardy and Rumberger ( 2008 ) also found evidence that students made greater gains in reading ability when taught by fully certified teachers.

In a longitudinal study using data from teachers teaching grades four and five and their students in the Houston School District in Texas, Darling-Hammond et al. ( 2005 ) found that those teachers who had completed training that resulted in a recognized teaching certificate were more effective that those who had no dedicated teaching qualifications. The study results suggested that teachers without recognized US certification or with non-standard certifications generally had negative effects on student achievement after controlling for student characteristics and prior achievement, as well as the teacher’s experience and degrees. The effects of teacher certification on student achievement were generally much stronger than the effects for teacher experience. Conversely, analyzing data from the ECLS-K, Phillips ( 2010 ) found that grade one students tended to have lower mathematics achievement gains when they had teachers with standard certification. In sum, the literature the influence of teacher certification remains deeply ambiguous.

2.3.4 Professional Development

Although work by Desimone et al. ( 2002 , 2013 ) suggested that professional development may influence the quality of instruction, most researchers found that teachers’ professional development experiences showed only limited associations with their effectiveness, although middle- and high-school mathematics teachers who undertook more content-focused training may be the exception (Blomeke et al. 2016 ; Harris and Sass 2011 ). In their meta-analysis of the effects of professional development on student achievement, Blank and De Las Alas ( 2009 ) found that 16 studies reported significant and positive relationships between professional development and student achievement. For mathematics, the average effect size of studies using a pre-post assessment design was 0.21 standard deviations.

Analyzing the data from six data sets, two from the Beginning Teacher Preparation Survey conducted in Connecticut and Tennessee, and four from the United States National Center for Education Statistics’ National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Wallace ( 2009 ) used structural equation modeling to find that professional development had a very small, but occasionally statistically significant effect on student achievement. She found, for example, that for NAEP mathematics data from the year 2000, 1.2 additional hours of professional development per year were related to an increase in average student scores of 0.62 points, and for reading, an additional 1.1 h of professional development were related to an average increase in student scores of 0.24 points. Overall, Wallace ( 2009 ) identified professional development had moderate effects on teacher practice and some small effects on student achievement when mediated by teacher practice.

2.3.5 Teacher Content Knowledge

Of course, characteristics like experience and education may be imperfect proxies for teacher content knowledge; unfortunately, content knowledge is difficult to assess directly. However, there is a growing body of work suggesting that teacher content knowledge may associated with student learning. It should be noted that there is an important distinction between general content knowledge about a subject (CK) and pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) specifically related to teaching that subject, each of which may be independently related to student outcomes (Baumert et al. 2010 ).

Studies from the United States (see for example, Chingos and Peterson 2011 ; Clotfelter et al. 2006 ; Constantine et al. 2009 ; Hill et al. 2005 ; Shuls and Trivitt 2015 ) have found some evidence that higher teacher cognitive skills in mathematics are associated with higher student scores. Positive associations between teacher content knowledge and student outcomes were also found in studies based in Germany (Baumert et al. 2010 ) and Peru (Metzler and Woessman 2012 ), and in a comparative study using Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) data undertaken by Hanushek et al. ( 2018 ). These findings are not universal, however, other studies from the United States (Blazar 2015 ; Garet et al. 2016 ; Rockoff et al. 2011 ) failed to find a statistically significant association between teacher content knowledge and student learning.

The studies we have discussed all used some direct measure of teacher content knowledge. An alternative method of assessing mathematics teacher content knowledge is self-reported teacher preparation to teach mathematics topics. Both TIMSS and IEA’s Teacher Education and Development Study in Mathematics (TEDS-M, conducted in 2007–2008) have included many questions, asking teachers to report on their preparedness to teach particular topics. Although Luschei and Chudgar ( 2011 ) and Gustafsson and Nilson ( 2016 ) found that these items had a weak direct relationship to student achievement across countries, other studies have suggested that readiness is related to instructional quality (Blomeke et al. 2016 ), as well as content knowledge and content preparation (Schmidt et al. 2017 ), suggesting that instructional quality may have an indirect effect on student learning.

2.4 Teacher Behaviors and Opportunity to Learn

Although the impact of teacher characteristics (experience, education, and preparedness to teach) on student outcomes remains an open question, there is much a much more consistent relationship between student achievement and teacher behaviors (instructional time and instructional content), especially behaviors related instructional content. Analyzing TIMSS, Schmidt et al. ( 2001 ) found an association between classroom opportunity to learn (OTL), interpreted narrowly as student exposure to instructional content, and student achievement. In a later study using student-level PISA data, Schmidt et al. ( 2015 ) identified a robust relationship between OTL and mathematics literacy across 62 different educational systems. The importance of instructional content has been recognized by national policymakers, and has helped motivate standards-based reform in an effort to improve student achievement, such as the Common Core in the United States (Common Core Standards Initiative 2018 ). However, we found that there was little research on whether teacher instructional content that aligned with national standards had improved student learning; the only study that we were able to identify found that such alignment had only very weak associations with student mathematics scores (Polikoff and Porter 2014 ). Student-reported data indicates that instructional time (understood as classroom time on a particular subject) does seem to be related to mathematics achievement (Cattaneo et al. 2016 ; Jerrim et al. 2017 ; Lavy 2015 ; Rivkin and Schiman 2015 ; Woessman 2003 ).

2.5 Conclusion

This review of the literature simply brushes the surface of the exceptional body of work on the relationship between student achievement and teacher characteristics and behaviors. Whether analyzing US-based, international, or the (limited) number of comparative studies, the associations between easily measurable teacher characteristics, like experience and education, and student outcomes in mathematics, remains debatable. In contrast, there is more evidence to support the impact of teacher behaviors, such as instructional content and time on task, on student achievement. Our goal was to incorporate all these factors into a comparative model across countries, with the aim of determining what an international cross-national study like TIMSS could reveal about the influence of teachers on student outcomes in mathematics. The analysis that follows draws on the existing body of literature on teacher effectiveness, which identified key teacher factors that may be associated with higher student achievement: teacher experience, teacher professional knowledge (measured by education and self-reported preparation to teach mathematics), and teacher provision of opportunity to learn (time on mathematics and content coverage).

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Education Next

  • State Policy
  • Teachers and Teaching
  • The Journal
  • Vol. 16, No. 2

In Schools, Teacher Quality Matters Most

research on teacher quality

Dan Goldhaber

research on teacher quality

This article is part of a new Education Next series commemorating the 50th anniversary of James S. Coleman’s groundbreaking report , “Equality of Educational Opportunity.” The full series will appear in the Spring 2016 issue of Education Next .

What the Report Didn’t Say

The Coleman Report focused on differences in schooling resources available to white and minority students and on the degree of racial segregation in America’s public schools. It was also the first major, large-scale study to try to document the influence of schooling resources on student achievement, and how the influence of schooling resources compares to the influence of student background and socioeconomic status. This comparison resulted in the oft-cited finding that “schools don’t matter.” Interestingly, that quote does not appear in the Coleman Report, yet it is widely interpreted as a central conclusion. The actual text is far more nuanced, suggesting that

schools are remarkably similar in the way they relate to the achievement of their pupils when the socioeconomic background of students is taken into account.… When these factors are statistically controlled…it appears that differences between schools account for only a small fraction of differences in pupil achievement.

The phrases “small fraction” and “between schools” are important. The finding that differences between schools only explain a small fraction of the variation in student achievement does not suggest that policymakers wishing to improve the lives of students are necessarily hamstrung. That differences in resources do not explain a large share of the differences in test scores between white and minority students (the report focused on African American students) does not necessarily mean those resources do not affect student achievement. Not only do we now know more definitively that the quality of schools and teachers do matter, but also, importantly, these are resources over which policymakers have direct control (at least more so than socioeconomic status). And the fact that the Coleman findings are based on differences between schools means that it ignores important differences in resources—teacher quality in particular—that we know today exist within schools.

What Did Coleman Say about Schooling and Teacher Quality?

Beyond the headline finding about the impact of schooling overall, the report contains a fair amount of nuance on which school characteristics do (and, importantly, which do not) predict student achievement. The primary analytical technique used involved assessing the proportion of the variation in student achievement explained by different factors. Across grades and different student subgroups, the Coleman study found that most of the variation in student achievement is within rather than between schools, but a larger share of the variation is found between schools in earlier grades and among more disadvantaged subgroups. Regarding teacher quality specifically, one of the key conclusions is that

the quality of teachers shows a stronger relationship [than school facilities and curricula] to pupil achievement. Furthermore, it is progressively greater at higher grades, indicating a cumulative impact of the qualities of teachers in a school on the pupil’s achievements. Again, teacher quality seems more important to minority achievement than to that of the majority.

The finding that “teacher quality is one of the few school characteristics that significantly affects student performance” is quite consistent with more-recent research. Also in line with current studies is the report’s finding that “for any groups whether minority or not, the effect of good teachers is greatest upon the children who suffer most educational disadvantage in their background, and that a given investment in upgrading teacher quality will have most effect on achievement in underprivileged areas.” Recent studies, for instance, find that higher funding levels, smaller classes, and more-qualified teachers all have larger effects on disadvantaged students than on other students.

What characteristics of teachers are predictive of student achievement? The report includes various caveats about the findings, including that “many characteristics of teachers were not measured in this survey; therefore, the results are not at all conclusive regarding the specific characteristics of teachers that are most important.” But of the characteristics and attitudinal factors that were measured, “those that bear the highest relationship to pupil achievement are first, the teacher’s score on the verbal skills test, and then his educational background—both his own level of education and that of his parents.” Also measured were teaching experience (in years), professional journals read, and teachers’ perceptions of the ability and effort levels of their students.

The finding that teachers’ verbal skills appear to be predictive of student achievement is consistent with later reviews of the factors predicting student achievement and with evidence from the last decade showing that teachers’ licensure test scores are also predictive of achievement. There is far less evidence from research today that teachers’ educational background (having a master’s degree in particular) matters for students. One possibility is that teacher degree level was more predictive of teacher quality in the 1960s than it is today. School systems today are not very discriminating when it comes to crediting teachers with a master’s degree (with a substantial pay bump). Most reward the degree regardless of the focus of the master’s work—it is often unrelated to the teacher’s classroom assignment—and pay no attention to the quality of the institution granting the degree. Moreover, a far lower proportion of the teacher workforce had an advanced degree in the 1960s; obtaining such a degree may have been more likely to reflect the quality of those teachers who pursued this credential.

One finding from the Coleman Report that is rarely mentioned relates to the structure of the teacher labor market. The data collection for the Coleman Report included several questions about where teachers in a school grew up and went to high school and college. As is the case today, “In the Nation, there is considerable evidence that [minority students] are more likely to be taught by teachers who are locality-based, in the sense that they are products of the area in which they teach and that they secured their public school training nearby.” This finding reflects what is now popularly known as the “draw of home” in the teacher labor market. Like much in the world of education, this aspect of the teacher labor market appears not to be very different today than 50 years ago.

The Coleman et al. study has been subject to a number of critiques, including, for example, that the cross-sectional nature of the data used did not support causal claims about schooling effects, and that the percentage of variance explained by different subgroups of variables are sensitive to the order in which these are entered into statistical models. It is worth noting that the report itself addresses many of the issues brought up by critics. For instance, it reports the findings on the proportion of explained variation associated with entering explanatory variables in different order and notes the possibility that

school effects were not evident because no measurement of educational growth was carried out. Had it been, then some schools might have shown much greater growth rates of students than would others and these rates might have been highly correlated with school characteristics.

My interpretation of the Coleman Report findings is consistent with the reanalysis and reinterpretation by scholars in the early 1970s: in short, the findings hold up remarkably well.

What Have We Learned since Coleman about Teacher Quality?

Some of the acknowledged limitations of the data used in the Coleman study—the need to focus on the relationship between teacher variables averaged to the school level and student achievement, in particular—have been addressed by more-recent research. Specifically, the Coleman study was unable to explore the extent to which teacher quality varies within schools or estimate how much of the impact of individual teachers might be related to teacher attributes not associated with those school-level variables. Researchers today have the benefit of longitudinal data sets that link individual teachers and students over time. This allows for the use of statistical models to estimate the total contribution—that attributable to both observable and unobserved teacher attributes—of teachers toward student test-score gains (often referred to as “value added”). Although these models are controversial, the weight of the evidence suggests that they produce valid estimates of teachers’ contributions to student learning.

The importance of being able to estimate the value added of teachers for both policy and research cannot be overstated. Admittedly, many observable teacher characteristics—
gender, age, an advanced degree, or even state certification of competence—are not ordinarily found to be associated with effectiveness in the classroom. Yet qualities less easily (or commonly) quantified appear to matter a great deal, as the differences between individual teachers have been found to have profound effects. Not surprisingly, teachers who are successful with students in one year tend to be successful in other years; hence, measures of a teacher’s performance in the past tend to be a good predictor of how well future students assigned to that teacher will achieve. And recent studies that consider within-school differences in teacher effectiveness show just how important teachers are (see Figure 1). For instance, the median finding across 10 studies of teacher effectiveness estimates that a teacher who is one standard deviation above the average in terms of quality produces additional learning gains for students of 0.12 standard deviations in reading and 0.14 standard deviations in math. These within-school differences likely understate the overall import of teacher effectiveness because, as recent evidence suggests, there are also differences in teacher quality across schools. Despite this, the impact of having an effective teacher (one at the 85th percentile) in a particular school versus having an average teacher (one at the 50th percentile) is several times larger than the differences we typically observe between a novice and third-year teacher.

Finally, although the lion’s share of teacher-quality research since the Coleman Report has focused on the connections between teacher quality and student test scores, new evidence is shining a light on the extent to which teachers affect other long-term non-test student outcomes as well. Important work by Stanford University researcher Raj Chetty and his colleagues finds that value-added measures of teacher quality predict students’ outcomes long into the future. Students assigned to high-value-added teachers are more likely to graduate from high school, go to college, be employed, and earn higher wages (see Figure 2). This has profound implications: Chetty and colleagues estimate that replacing a teacher whose value added is in the bottom 5 percent of the distribution with an average teacher would increase the present discounted value of students’ lifetime income by more than $250,000 for a typical class (of 
28 students).

Coleman and Policy Debates Today

Have the last 50 years of education research led us to fundamentally different conclusions about the impact of teachers on the educational achievement of students? There is a bit more nuance to the answer than “not really,” but “not really” comes awfully close to hitting the mark. If anything, the half century of research on student achievement has strengthened arguments for a policy focus on teacher quality. More-sophisticated research has been conducted over the last two decades, since states began collecting longitudinal data that connect teachers and students. This work shows both how different teachers are from one another, in ways not readily captured by their qualifications, and how important these differences are for student achievement and long-term outcomes.

Those who buy the notion that the Coleman Report basically got it right might ask why we have not made more progress in improving the quality of the teacher workforce (or schools more generally). Certainly, one part of the problem is that, 50 years later, we are still debating the extent to which education policy ought to focus on teacher quality, and on the performance of individual teachers in particular. The research showing the important variation in teacher quality within schools and its connection not only to test scores but also to other important outcomes ought to strengthen arguments for teacher-oriented policy interventions. But it is precisely the focus on teacher evaluation—and whether it is connected to student test scores—that is at the center of the most hotly contested education policy debates.

Recent revisions to the most prominent federal law dealing with school quality—the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—mark a sharp rollback of the federal role in teacher evaluation and accountability. It is not clear whether states and localities will consequently focus less attention on teacher quality, but if this is the outcome, policymakers will have failed to internalize the important lesson of both the Coleman Report and subsequent research: the main way that schools affect student outcomes is through the quality of their teachers.

Dan Goldhaber is director of the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research at American Institutes for Research and director of the Center for Education Data and Research at the University of Washington.

This article appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Education Next . Suggested citation format:

Goldhaber, D. (2016). In Schools, Teacher Quality Matters Most: Today’s research reinforces Coleman’s findings . Education Next , 16(2), 56-62.

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National Academies Press: OpenBook

Testing Teacher Candidates: The Role of Licensure Tests in Improving Teacher Quality (2001)

Chapter: 2. defining teacher quality, 2 defining teacher quality.

Defining teacher quality is fundamental to understanding the role of licensure tests in promoting it. This chapter discusses the variety of ways in which teacher quality has been defined and describes the standards that form the basis for some of the current definitions. It suggests that the knowledge and skills used by competent teachers are many and varied.

To learn whether or how licensure tests might promote teacher quality, the committee believes it is important to distinguish teacher quality from teaching quality. States and local districts play an important role in promoting teaching quality. If schools are not well organized and supportive, it is possible that even good teachers will not be successful (Raudenbush et al., 1992). Successful teaching depends on many factors, including the level of instructional resources available, staffing levels, continuing professional development, and support from administrators and parents (Johnson, 1990). The school and community forces that shape teachers’ practices and student learning are numerous and important.

This chapter examines teacher quality—the knowledge, skills, abilities, and dispositions of teachers. Defining teacher quality is no simple task, though, because the criteria for doing so vary from person to person, from one community to another, and from one era to the next. This chapter begins with a review of some of the country’s most prominent historical definitions of teacher quality. It then discusses current definitions of teacher competence by describing themes that are common to the teaching standards that have been developed by states, national organizations, and organizations that accredit teacher preparation programs.

We use the standards of the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC), the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Edu-

cation (NCATE), and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) to discuss current conceptions of teacher quality. INTASC is a consortium of state education agencies promoting standards-based reform through the development of licensing standards for beginning teachers. INTASC provides a vehicle for states to work together on licensing standards and assessments for beginning teachers. NCATE has been strengthening standards for teacher education programs, recently incorporating the performance standards developed by INTASC in the development of standards for accreditation of teacher education programs. NBPTS has developed standards for advanced certification, describing what accomplished teachers should know and be able to do. NBPTS has established a national voluntary system to assess and certify teachers to meet its standards. These various standards represent contemporary views of teacher quality and are relied on, in part, for the discussion below of what teachers need to know and do to promote student learning.


Teaching is, first and foremost, a cultural activity, and notions of teacher quality have changed over time as American society has shifted its values and concerns. Moreover, at any given time, different individuals and groups can hold very different ideas about teacher quality. A review of past definitions of teacher quality can provide a context for understanding contemporary definitions.

Teachers Should Personify Virtue

One popular criterion for teacher quality is high moral character. Teachers are often expected to be good role models for students and to represent the highest standards of social propriety. This view of teacher quality was especially widespread in the early 1900s. At that time, teachers were often placed on pedestals, so to speak, as were ministers. When a teacher entered a room, people stopped talking and became self-conscious and embarrassed. To illustrate the importance of moral character in teaching, Willard Waller, writing in 1932, provided this interesting contract that teachers in one community were expected to sign:

I promise to take a vital interest in all phases of Sunday-school work, donating of my time, service, and money without stint for the uplift and benefit of the community.

I promise to abstain from all dancing, immodest dressing and any other conduct unbecoming a teacher and a lady.

I promise not to go out with any young men except insofar as it may be necessary to stimulate Sunday-school work.

I promise not to fall in love, to become engaged, or secretly married.

I promise not to encourage or tolerate the least familiarity on the part of any of my boy pupils.

I promise to remember that I owe a duty to the townspeople who are paying my wages, that I owe respect to the school board and the superintendent that hired me, and that I shall consider myself at all times the willing servant of the school board and the townspeople (p. 43).

While this contract is quite dated, the notion that virtue is important is still widely discussed, and entire books are devoted to the place of ethics and moral behavior in contemporary teaching (van Manen, 1991; Noddings, 1984; Tom, 1980).

Teachers Should Transmit Cultural and Educational Values

Another definition of teacher quality emphasizes a broader range of personality and character traits—such as curiosity, enthusiasm, and compassion. Interest in personality traits was especially widespread in the decades immediately following World War II, partly in response to popular psychoanalytical theories and partly in response to concerns that America needed to ensure that it would not be susceptible to the totalitarian influences that had captivated other countries (Adorno et al., 1950; McGee, 1955). Each personality trait had its own rationale, and each was the subject of a variety of efforts to develop measures that could be used in screening candidates for teaching. For example, one theory held that a certain kind of personality, the authoritarian personality, was especially susceptible to fascist influences. The authoritarian personality was defined as someone who respected social hierarchy and felt unusually strong admiration and loyalty to those in positions of authority (Adorno et al., 1950). Associated with this broader social concern was a concern about the extent to which teachers might be fostering authoritarian values in school and a belief that American society would benefit if teachers’ personalities were the antithesis of the authoritarian personality. Thus, there was a great deal of interest in finding a way to measure authoritarian values and to use those measures to screen teaching candidates.

It is worth noting that researchers working during this period generally assumed that gains in student achievement were not good indicators of teacher quality because they represented far too narrow a range of outcomes. It was assumed that, in addition to fostering student learning, teachers served as moral role models and that they instilled a variety of social values in their students. Consequently, when researchers tried to evaluate their measures of teachers’ personal qualities, they usually looked for evidence of a relationship to observed practices or to principals’ ratings of teachers, rather than evidence of a relationship to student achievement (Getzels and Jackson, 1963).

Teachers Should Competently Teach the Prescribed Curricula

Another definition of teacher quality focuses on teachers’ skills rather than their morality or personality traits. This approach to teacher quality was especially widespread in the post-Sputnik era when American policy makers sponsored numerous curriculum design efforts and wanted teachers to implement the programs exactly as specified.

Pursuing the idea of the teacher with technical skills, researchers in the next decades focused on observing teachers in their classrooms, at first to see how well they were implementing specific curricula and later to document specific teaching practices that seemed to be associated with gains in students’ test scores (Brophy and Good, 1986). This latter body of work focused on discrete practices such as questioning and lesson pacing. This research came to be known as “process-product” research, since it sought relationships between classroom processes and the product of gains in student achievement. This movement marked the first time that student achievement became a widely accepted criterion for teacher quality. The goal of this research was to identify specific behaviors that other teachers could emulate. Researchers focused on such skills as question asking, lesson pacing, and clarity in explanations.

It is important to recall, too, that early in this country’s educational history, Americans were operating separate school systems for black students and white students and did not pay much attention to the needs of other nonwhite groups in education policies and practices. Most discussions about teacher quality, at least until the 1960s, referred mainly to white teachers teaching white students. The situation changed somewhat in the 1950s and 1960s, after the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision. Even then, though, discussions among mostly white scholars and politicians tended to focus more on the distribution of education resources than on questions of teacher quality.


These examples demonstrate how definitions of teacher quality have varied across time. In the 1980s and 1990s, Americans—particularly American policy makers—developed yet another definition of teacher quality. Today’s definition of teacher quality differs from its predecessors in several ways. First, it acknowledges the diversity of the student population in a way not previously done. Second, it asks for a level of instruction that is more intellectually rigorous and meaningful than has traditionally been the case. These definitions of teacher quality are less concerned with teachers’ character traits or technical proficiency and more concerned with teachers’ ability to engage students in rigorous, meaningful activities that foster academic learning for all students. Finally, current statements on teacher quality are standards based and define the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that teachers should demonstrate.

Recent attempts to define teacher quality have sought ways to broadly represent the views of the field and to benefit teacher development and assessment. Although the field does not unanimously support the teaching standards that have resulted, a significant degree of professional consensus is implied by the wide adoption of standards for beginning teachers, for the accreditation of teacher education programs, and for accomplished teachers. Several factors—both internal and external to the fields of education and teacher preparation—have coalesced to impel the development of teacher standards.

Current Standards for Teacher Competence

Three organizations have been particularly active in establishing standards for teacher quality, and all have relied on both research and consensus-building procedures to do so. The first, NBPTS, was created in 1987 and has developed a national, voluntary system for testing and rewarding accomplished teaching. NBPTS provides certificates to teachers seeking advanced credentials. INTASC was created shortly after NBPTS. The consortium of states working with INTASC has developed “National Board-compatible” licensing standards and assessments for beginning teachers. The standards developed by NBPTS and INTASC are linked to one another and to the student standards developed by national disciplinary organizations and states.

INTASC and NBPTS have used consensus models to develop teacher standards. In developing their core standards, both have worked with teachers and other experts in child development, teacher education, and the academic disciplines. They formed standards development committees to examine the literature on teaching, learning, and best practices and to describe what beginning and accomplished teachers need to know and be able to do. They drafted teaching standards that identify the knowledge, skills, abilities, and dispositions needed to teach. The draft standards were broadly vetted with teachers, teacher educators, and relevant professional bodies. They were critiqued at professional meetings and in focus group sessions. Revisions to the core standards were made to reflect the input and describe the consensus of the field. The consensus-based development models used by INTASC and NBPTS seek to identify competencies about which there is consensus in the field.

This work resulted in NBPTS’s five propositions for accomplished teachers and INTASC’s model standards for beginning teachers. NCATE’s standards are aligned with the INTASC principles. Because of the research that guided development of the standards and to the consensus model that the organizations used to garner support from the field for those standards, the committee chose to use them to describe current conceptions of teacher competence. The INTASC, NCATE, and NBPTS standards appear in Appendix B of this volume. Readers interested in additional information about the research utilized during the development of these standards can refer to What Teachers Should Know and Be Able

to Do (NBPTS, 1994), Model Standards for Beginning Teacher Licensing and Development (INTASC, 1992), and Standards, Procedures and Policies for the Accreditation of Professional Education Units (NCATE, 1997).

Themes from Standards for Teachers

All three sets of standards examine teaching in light of learning. They explicitly acknowledge that teachers’ actions or performances depend on many kinds of knowledge and on dispositions to use that knowledge and to work with others to support the learning and success of all students. These initiatives incorporate knowledge about teaching and learning that supports a view of teaching as complex, contingent on students’ needs and instructional goals, and reciprocal—that is, continually shaped and reshaped by students’ responses to learning events. The standards take into account the teaching challenges posed by a student body that is multicultural and multilingual. The standards recognize the learning styles of special-needs students and of students who possess different learning styles. By reflecting new subject matter standards for students and the demands of diverse learners, as well as the expectation that teachers should collaborate with colleagues and parents in order to succeed, the standards define teaching as a collegial, professional activity that responds to considerations of subjects, content, and students.

The three sets of standards are substantively connected and represent a continuum of development along a teacher’s career path. The INTASC standards describe the knowledge, skills, abilities, and dispositions of beginning teachers. The NCATE standards are targets for the approval of teacher education programs and describe the knowledge and skills of teacher candidates. The NBPTS standards describe accomplished teaching. In the next section, central themes that emerge across the standards are described. Because the categories of teacher competence of the NBPTS standards are broader and therefore fewer in number, the committee used them here to organize discussion of the themes.

Teachers Are Committed to Their Students and Students’ Learning

A central theme across the three sets of standards is that teachers should be committed to their students and their students’ learning. Teachers should act on the belief that all students can learn and should develop and use curricula that encourage students to see, question, and interpret ideas. To ensure that all students do learn, teachers should understand how the developmental levels of their students affect learning and how classroom instruction should be modified to reflect students’ needs. They should foster students’ self-esteem, motivation, civic responsibility, and respect for others.

To accommodate and respond to the needs of all their students, teachers should also understand and modify instruction to incorporate learning opportuni-

ties for students with learning disabilities; visual and perceptual disabilities; and speech, physical, and mental challenges. To fully understand their students and how they learn, teachers should recognize the ways in which cultural backgrounds and other sources of diversity shape students’ perspectives on the content and process of learning. The standards say teachers should understand how students’ personal and family backgrounds shape their talents and perspectives. This is especially important because today’s students come from varied cultural backgrounds. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2000), racial/ethnic minority students made up 22 percent of the country’s student population in the early 1970s. In 1998 the percentage of students from minority backgrounds enrolled in public schools had increased to 37 percent. The excerpts in Box 2–1 from the INTASC, NCATE, and NBPTS standards explain these ideas more fully. The full texts of the standards are contained in Appendix B .

Teachers Have Deep Subject Matter Knowledge

Another important theme of the standards is the need for deep subject matter knowledge. Teachers should know the substance and structure of the disciplines they teach. They should be able to translate difficult substantive ideas into terms that students can understand, to diagnose students’ understandings and misunderstandings, and to develop explanations, examples, and representations, including learning activities themselves, that are appropriate for students’ levels of understanding. INTASC, NCATE, and NBPTS standards on the need for subject matter knowledge appear in Box 2–2 .

Teachers Manage and Monitor Student Learning

To ensure that students progress, teachers should know how to identify learning goals and choose from a variety of teaching and learning strategies that will engage students in the learning process. This includes selecting the necessary educational resources (computers, books, and audiovisual equipment), selecting the most appropriate instructional role (instructor, facilitator, coach, or audience), and effectively implementing instructional strategies in the classroom. Occurring simultaneously with the management of student learning is the monitoring of student learning through ongoing assessment of student progress. Hence, teachers should be aware of the different kinds of assessments that can be used in the classroom, such as criterion-referenced and norm-referenced tests, traditional standardized and performance-based tests, observation systems, and portfolios of student work. The standards in Box 2–3 describe the knowledge, skills, and dispositions teachers need to manage and monitor student learning.

Teachers Are Reflective About Their Teaching

Teachers make decisions that affect their students’ learning throughout the day and over the course of the school year. To feel comfortable with their decisions, competent teachers evaluate these decisions and experiences and make continual adjustments in their curricular plans in response to students’ progress. They revise their own repertoire of behaviors, classrooms rules, and learning activities as they learn more about how their students tend to respond to these things.

The standards call for teachers to be reflective about their practice. Teachers should use classroom observation, information about students, the professional literature, colleagues, and other resources as sources for evaluating the outcomes of their teaching. They should experiment with, reflect on, and revise their practice to improve their effectiveness in meeting students’ needs and achieving instructional goals. To be reflective requires teacher candidates and accomplished teachers to be self-directed, to engage in critical thinking about

their teaching, and to be open and responsive to feedback received from other professional colleagues. The standards in Box 2–4 address reflective teaching.

Teachers Are Members of a Broader Community

The final theme of the standards recognizes that teaching does not occur in a vacuum. Students and any individual classroom are part of a larger context both within and outside the school. The teacher needs to understand the role of the school and the staff in the broader community. Specifically, the teacher understands how factors in students’ environments outside school, such as family circumstances, community environments, health, and economic conditions, may

influence students’ lives and learning. To this end, the teacher makes a concerted effort to establish relationships with students’ parents and guardians. Within the school, the teacher also participates in collegial activities designed to make the entire school a cohesive unit and a productive learning environment. Box 2–5 provides excerpts from the INTASC, NCATE, and NBPTS standards.

These standards illustrate the wide range of knowledge, skills, abilities, and dispositions that contemporary educators believe competent teachers must possess and demonstrate in the classroom. Competent teachers are committed to their students and students’ learning, possess deep subject matter knowledge, effectively manage and monitor student learning, are reflective about their teaching, and are members of the broader school community. The standards are useful in providing a framework of the complexities and multiple dimensions of teaching, yet, as

mentioned earlier, there is not complete consensus in the field about these standards. Concerns with the standards have included challenges to the research base that supports the NCATE standards (Ballou and Podgursky, 1999) and issues about the breadth of the statements that define the standards (Richardson, 1994; Roth, 1996).

The breadth of the standards causes problems in developing assessments, as their broad nature leaves open a variety of interpretations (Roth, 1996). This makes it difficult to translate the standards into test specifications and to develop assessments of the intended skills. The ongoing development of content-specific standards by NBPTS and INTASC begins to address this issue. Also, it is not explicitly stated what level of performance the standards relate to—the ideal, normative, or minimum? A third concern relates to a teacher’s ability to demonstrate all of the behaviors denoted in the INTASC standards. As Richardson (1994:17) states: “Is it possible for a beginning teacher to attain the deep knowledge and understanding of classrooms, students, context, and subject matter implied in these principles?”

The next chapter shows how the field has attempted to develop teacher tests and assessments based on standards of teacher competence. The NBPTS assessments examine the performance of experienced teachers and are not the focus of this report. This report is about testing for initial licensure. Initial licensing tests are not intended to test for advanced levels of performance or for all of the knowledge and skills characteristic of accomplished teachers. They are intended to test the knowledge and skills of entry-level teachers. Building on the teaching competencies outlined in current teacher standards, Chapter 3 describes the procedures that states use to identify the knowledge and skills needed for minimally competent beginning practice. It examines current state tests and other initial licensure requirements.

Definitions of what teachers should know and be able to do have changed over time as society’s values have changed, and they will continue to do so. The job of teaching students to learn and use new information, develop and apply skills, and think critically is highly complex and demanding. Teachers need to motivate and engage all students, including students from varied backgrounds and those with different learning and language needs. In addition to being responsible for student learning, teachers are expected to provide safe and nurturing classrooms, serve as good role models, and to engage parents and the community in the business of their school. Teachers need a wide range of knowledge, skills, abilities, and dispositions to perform these many complex tasks.

The quality of teaching in a school depends on more than just individual teacher quality. It also depends on factors such as the amount and quality of

instructional resources available, teacher professional development, staffing, and support from administrators and parents.

There is no single agreed-upon definition of what competencies a beginning teacher should have. Different professional organizations and many states have recently developed standards for teachers. The fact that different states have affiliations with these national and regional standards development efforts suggests some agreement between states about standards for teacher competence. Given that states have different educational standards for students, have teacher candidate pools with different characteristics, and that licensing of teachers is a state responsibility, it is not surprising that there is some variation in the knowledge and skills that states seek for beginning teachers.

Americans have adopted a reform agenda for their schools that calls for excellence in teaching and learning. School officials across the nation are hard at work targeting instruction at high levels for all students. Gaps remain, however, between the nation's educational aspirations and student achievement. To address these gaps, policy makers have recently focused on the qualifications of teachers and the preparation of teacher candidates.

This book examines the appropriateness and technical quality of teacher licensure tests currently in use, evaluates the merits of using licensure test results to hold states and institutions of higher education accountable for the quality of teacher preparation and licensure, and suggests alternatives for developing and assessing beginning teacher competence.

Teaching is a complex activity. Definitions of quality teaching have changed and will continue to change over time as society's values change. This book provides policy makers, teacher testers, and teacher educators with advice on how to use current tests to assess teacher candidates and evaluate teacher preparation, ensuring that America's youth are being taught by the most qualified candidates.

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Book | Education

Teacher Quality : Understanding the Effectiveness of Teacher Attributes

Book • By Jennifer King Rice • 2003

Teacher Quality: Understanding the Effectiveness of Teacher Attributes

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Executive Summary

  • Introduction: The policy and research context

Teacher quality matters. In fact, it is the most important school-related factor influencing student achievement. Moreover, teacher compensation represents a significant public investment: in 2002 alone, the United States invested $192 billion in teacher pay and benefits. Given the size of this investment, there is remarkably little research to guide such critical decisions as whom to hire, retain, and promote. In the absence of a strong, robust, and deep body of research, the debate in this field is largely ideological.

This analysis reviews a wide range of empirical studies that examine the impact of teacher characteristics on teacher effectiveness in order to draw conclusions about the extent to which these characteristics are, in fact, linked with teacher performance. Greater clarity on the empirical evidence can inform the wisdom of current practice, guide state efforts as they struggle with No Child Left Behind compliance regarding teacher quality, and provide direction for future teacher policy decisions. For example, developing an approach to policy that values different and multiple teacher characteristics based on the research evidence may prove promising. It is important to note that many personal characteristics important for a good teacher are not measured in the studies reviewed. The focus is on aspects of teacher background that can be translated into policy recommendations and incorporated into teaching practice.

The framework for this study includes five broad categories of measurable and policy-relevant indicators to organize the teacher characteristics assumed to reflect teacher quality. It is notable that findings for these characteristics frequently differ for teachers at the elementary school level and teachers at the high school level and that the body of research on the subject of teacher quality suggests that the context of teaching matters (e.g., differences in grade levels, subject areas, and student populations). A refined understanding of how teacher attributes affect their performance across these different teaching contexts can be helpful in determining the range of potentially effective policy options.

The highlights of the empirical evidence include:

Teacher experience • Several studies have found a positive effect of experience on teacher effectiveness; specifically, the “learning by doing” effect is most obvious in the early years of teaching.

Teacher preparation programs and degrees • Research suggests that the selectivity/prestige of the institution a teacher attended has a positive effect on student achievement, particularly at the secondary level. This may partially be a reflection of the cognitive ability of the teacher. • Evidence suggests that teachers who have earned advanced degrees have a positive impact on high school mathematics and science achievement when the degrees earned were in these subjects. • Evidence regarding the impact of advanced degrees at the elementary level is mixed.

Teacher certification • Research has demonstrated a positive effect of certified teachers on high school mathematics achievement when the certification is in mathematics. • Studies show little clear impact of emergency or alternative-route certification on student performance in either mathematics or science, as compared to teachers who acquire standard certification.

Teacher coursework • Teacher coursework in both the subject area taught and pedagogy contributes to positive education outcomes. • Pedagogical coursework seems to contribute to teacher effectiveness at all grade levels, particularly when coupled with content knowledge. • The importance of content coursework is most pronounced at the high school level. • While the studies on the field experience component of teacher education are not designed to reveal causal relationships, they suggest positive effects in terms of opportunity to learn the profession and reduced anxiety among new teachers.

Teachers’ own test scores • Tests that assess the literacy levels or verbal abilities of teachers have been shown to be associated with higher levels of student achievement. • Studies show the National Teachers Examination and other state-mandated tests of basic skills and/or teaching abilities are less consistent predictors of teacher performance.

Given that many dimensions of teacher characteristics matter—preparation in both pedagogic and subject content, credentials, experience, and test scores—the findings from the literature imply that there is no merit in large-scale elimination of all credentialing requirements. Nor are improvements in teacher quality likely to be realized through the status quo. Rather, teacher policies need to reflect the reality that teaching is a complex activity that is influenced by the many elements of teacher quality. Most of the research does not seek to capture interactions among the multiple dimensions of teacher quality, and as a result, there are major gaps in the research that still need to be explored. Nor does the research fully address evidence about teacher quality at the elementary and middle school levels, in subjects other than mathematics, or among different populations of students (such as high poverty, English language learners, or special education).

In opposition to those who propose to eliminate all requirements for entering the teaching profession, this analysis supports a judicious use of the research evidence on teacher characteristics and teacher effectiveness. The evidence indicates that neither an extreme centralized bureaucratization nor a complete deregulation of teacher requirements is a wise approach for improving teacher quality. What holds a great deal more promise is refining the policies and practices employed to build a qualified body of teachers in elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools; for disadvantaged, special needs, and advantaged students; and for math, science, languages, English, social studies, and the arts.

Education policy makers and administrators would be well served by recognizing the complexity of the issue and adopting multiple measures along many dimensions to support existing teachers and to attract and hire new, highly qualified teachers. The research suggests that investing in teachers can make a difference in student achievement. In order to implement needed policies associated with staffing every classroom—even the most challenging ones—with high-quality teachers, substantial and targeted investments must first be made in both teacher quality and education research.


The policy and research context

Are qualified teachers really quality teachers? Likewise, are hiring and compensation policies that reward certain qualifications the equivalent of investing in teacher quality? Does hiring and retaining qualified teachers lead to improvements in student achievement? Researchers and policy makers agree that teacher quality is a pivotal policy issue in education reform, particularly given the proportion of education dollars devoted to teacher compensation coupled with the evidence that teachers are the most important school-related factor affecting student achievement. However, considerable disagreement surrounds what specific teacher attributes indicate quality and how to better invest resources to provide quality teachers for all students. This review examines empirical evidence on the relationship between teacher attributes and teacher effectiveness with the goal of informing federal, state, and local teacher policy.

The policy context

Education is the compilation and product of many and varied resources. Among these, teachers stand out as a key to realizing the high standards that are increasingly emphasized in schools and school systems across the country. Despite general agreement about the importance of high-quality teachers, researchers, practitioners, policy makers, and the public have been unable to reach a consensus about what specific qualities and characteristics make a good teacher. Even more concerning is the array of policy statements regarding teacher preparation that have been set forth in the face of volumes of inconclusive and inconsistent evidence about what teacher attributes really contribute to desired educational outcomes. Policy makers are left with questions surrounding what counts as a quality teacher—information that could be valuable in guiding policies regarding whom to hire, whom to reward, and how best to distribute teachers across schools and classrooms. Answers to these questions have potentially important implications for the efficiency and equity of public education.

The intense interest in teacher policy is motivated by several compelling factors. One factor relates to the high proportion of educational dollars devoted to teacher compensation. The single largest category of educational spending is devoted to the purchase of teacher time. A substantial portion of the 1999-2000 national investment in public education, which totaled over $360 billion, was used to employ almost 2.9 million teachers to educate more than 46 million public elementary and secondary students (National Center for Education Statistics 2000). 1 Guthrie and Rothstein (1998) assert that teacher salaries account for at least 50% of typical school district expenditures. Further, in their analysis of spending in the New York City public school system, Speakman et al. (1996) found that over 41% of the total expenditures in this district were devoted to the salaries and benefits of instructional teachers. An additional 6% was spent on other instructional personnel such as substitutes and paraprofessionals. This high level of investment mirrors the general sentiment among policy makers, researchers, and the general public that teachers are perhaps the most valuable resource allocated to student education.

Further, the enhancement of teacher quality is likely to be quite costly. Increases in teacher salaries, incentives such as loan-forgiveness programs, heightened teacher preparation requirements, and other efforts to prepare, recruit, and retain high-quality teachers are all associated with substantial costs. These costs could be managed by targeting specific areas of need where teacher shortages are most pronounced, such as particular subject areas (e.g., mathematics and science), types of classrooms (e.g., special education), and geographic areas (e.g., urban settings). Nevertheless, a clear sense of which teacher attributes really lead to improved educational outcomes should guide these important investment decisions, particularly given the many competing policy options to enhance teacher quality, as well as other attractive education policy proposals. In a context of limited resources, difficult policy choices must be made, and solid evidence should be used to guide those decisions.

The willingness of policy makers and taxpayers to devote such a large proportion of education dollars to teachers highlights the undisputed importance of teachers in realizing educational goals. A number of researchers have argued that teacher quality is a powerful predictor of student performance. In her analysis of teacher preparation and student achievement across states, Darling-Hammond (2000) reports that “measures of teacher preparation and certification are by far the strongest correlates of student achievement in reading and mathematics, both before and after controlling for student poverty and language status.” She contends that measures of teacher quality are more strongly related to student achievement than other kinds of educational investments such as reduced class size, overall spending on education, and teacher salaries. 2

In contrast to the approach used by Darling-Hammond, which equates teacher quality with specific qualifications, Rivkin, Hanushek, and Kain (1998) identify teacher quality in terms of student performance outcomes. 3 Their research identifies teacher quality as the most important school-related factor influencing student achievement. They conclude from their analysis of 400,000 students in 3,000 schools that, while school quality is an important determinant of student achievement, the most important predictor is teacher quality. In comparison, class size, teacher education, and teacher experience play a small role.

Hanushek (1992) estimates that the difference between having a good teacher and having a bad teacher can exceed one grade-level equivalent in annual achievement growth. Likewise, Sanders (1998) and Sanders and Rivers (1996) argue that the single most important factor affecting student achievement is teachers, and the effects of teachers on student achievement are both additive and cumulative. Further, they contend that lower achieving students are the most likely to benefit from increases in teacher effectiveness. Taken together, these multiple sources of evidence—however different in nature—all conclude that quality teachers are a critical determinant of student achievement. In the current policy climate of standards-based reform, these findings make a strong case for gaining a better understanding of what really accounts for these effects. In other words, what is teacher quality?

The resource-intensive nature of teachers coupled with the empirical evidence documenting the critical role of teacher quality in realizing student achievement implies that teacher policy is a promising avenue toward better realizing goals of efficiency, equity, and adequacy in public education. Indeed, recommendations for reforming the preparation of teachers have become commonplace in reports aimed at improving public education (Bush 1987). For instance, almost two decades ago in its call for improved teacher preparation, the National Commission on Excellence in Education (1983) stated that “teacher preparation programs are too heavily weighted with courses in educational methods at the expense of courses in subjects to be taught.” The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching recommended that teacher education programs require a 3.0 grade point average for admission, and that teachers complete courses in an academic-core subject in four years before spending a fifth year learning about education (Boyer 1983). Likewise, the Holmes Group (1986) advised that all major universities with substantial enrollments of preservice teachers (i.e., those who are preparing to enter the teaching profe ssion but who are not yet classroom teachers) should adopt the four-year liberal arts baccalaureate as a prerequisite for acceptance into their teacher education programs. A decade later the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future proposed major changes in teacher preparation and licensure, recommending that authority over these matters be shifted from public officials to professional organizations (NCTAF 1996). 4

The recent federal education legislation, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), further underlines the importance of having a high-quality teacher in every classroom in every school. The Bush Administration’s proposal, which specifies what defines a “highly qualified” teacher, is based on the premise that teacher excellence is vital to realizing improved student achievement. 5 This legislation, along with typical hiring and compensation systems, assumes that years of teaching experience, teacher certification, engagement in certain types of coursework, and performance on standardized assessments are indicators of high-quality teachers. 6

The purpose of this analysis is to review existing empirical evidence to draw conclusions about the specific characteristics that are linked with teacher performance. Greater clarity on the empirical evidence regarding teacher quality can inform the wisdom of current practice, guide state efforts in the struggle with NCLB compliance regarding teachers, and provide direction for future teacher policy.

The research context

In the context of this intense activity surrounding teacher policy, it makes sense to turn to the existing evidence on which teacher attributes are related to teacher effectiveness in order to guide policy decisions about hiring, compensation, and distribution with respect to teachers. However, the literature on teacher quality and qualifications has typically been viewed as inconsistent and inconclusive. Much of this perception has been fueled by a set of analyses conducted by Eric Hanushek over the past two decades. In his meta-analysis of studies examining the impact of several key educational resources on student achievement, Hanushek (1981, 1986, 1996, 1997) concluded that there is no systematic relationship between educational inputs and student performance. For example, with respect to teacher characteristics, Hanushek (1997) identified 171 estimates related to the impact of “teacher education” on student performance. Of these, he reported that 9% were statistically significant and positive, 5% were statistically significant and negative, and 86% were statistically insignificant. In addition, Hanushek included 41 estimates of the impact of teacher test scores on student outcomes. Of these, 37% were statistically significant and positive, 10% were statistically significant and negative, and 54% were not statistically significant. Finally, of the 207 studies that estimate the effect of teacher experience, 29% of the estimates were statistically significant and positive, 5% were statistically significant and negative, and 66% were not statistically significant.

Hanushek’s conclusions that resources are not systematically related to outcomes has been hotly challenged by a number of other researchers with respect to his “vote-counting” methodology (Hedges, Laine, and Greenwald 1994a, 1994b; Greenwald, Hedges, and Laine 1996; Krueger 2002) and how he weighted (or didn’t weight) the studies (Krueger 2002). The work by Hedges, Laine, and Greenwald demonstrated that the use of more sophisticated meta-analytical techniques to analyze the same set of studies included in Hanushek’s review produced far more consistent and compelling findings regarding the effect of educational resources—including variables related to the quality and quantity of teachers—on student achievement. Krueger’s (2002) critique of Hanushek’s methodology centered on how the various studies were weighted in Hanushek’s analysis. Essentially, Hanushek labeled each estimate of an effect as a “study,” so that one article could have several estimates, or studies, that are factored into Hanushek’s count of positive, negative, or statistically insignificant (positive and negative) effects. Krueger argues that this approach weights the various studies by the number of different estimates of the effect of a particular variable they include. Further, he contends that studies that report negative or statistically insignificant findings are more likely to include more estimates than those that find statistically significant positive effects. Krueger’s re-analysis of the studies that Hanushek included on the effect of pupil-teacher ratio and the effect of per-pupil expenditures demonstrates that other approaches to weighting the studies lead to a more consistent and positive story about the effect of these resources on student achievement.

In addition to these criticisms, Hanushek’s analysis was limited to the education production function literature, i.e., studies examining how educational resources (inputs) are systematically transformed into educational outcomes (outputs). On one hand, this set of studies could be argued to be too inclusive in the sense that even those studies that simply included an educational resource as a control variable might be inappropriately considered (e.g., a study including both class size and per-pupil expenditures). On the other hand, the production function literature could be contested as too exclusive in the sense that other methodological approaches, particularly those that allow the researcher to focus on more refined measures of what teachers know and can do, can also make valuable contributions to what we know about the value of educational resources. In contrast to the work of Hanushek and others who have looked at specific subgroups of studies (see, for example, Mayer, Mullens, Moore, and Ralph 2000; Wayne and Youngs 2003; Whitehurst 2002), the literature review presented here represents an analysis of a wide variety of empirical studies examining the impact of teacher attributes on teacher performance.

The approach taken here is similar to that used by Wilson, Floden, and Ferrini-Mundy (2001) in their review of the research on teacher preparation conducted for the U.S. Department of Education. Empirical studies that conform to a variety of accepted methodological approaches and use a range of measures of teacher effectiveness are used to ascertain what existing evidence says about the relationship between teacher attributes and their performance. In addition, this approach pays close attention to a number of contextual factors (e.g., level of education, subject area, type of student) as a way of drawing conclusions across studies. Clearly, the context of teaching is important and may affect the impact of the teacher attributes considered in this analysis. In fact, when existing studies are considered as a whole (without breaking them down by contextual factors such as subject area or grade level), findings tend to be inconsistent across studies; context variables may help to explain the apparent inconsistency of the existing research. In other words, a particular teacher attribute (e.g., a subject-specific master’s degree) may be an important predictor of teacher effectiveness in some contexts (e.g., high school math), but may not matter at all or may even have a negative effect in other contexts (e.g., first-grade reading). This careful attention to the context of teaching, wherever possible, helps to tease out some effects that would otherwise go undetected in reviews that neglect to consider these factors. The goal of this study is to sort through the available evidence to draw conclusions about what matters, what has been studied but has not been shown to matter, and what has not been adequately studied.

In the face of such seemingly inco nsistent and inconclusive evidence, policy makers are side-stepping the research (or relying only on those studies that support their positions) to move forward with teacher policies, often without the benefit of research to guide their efforts. However, research can, and should, play a role in these decisions. For instance, numerous measures of what a teacher knows and can do have been routinely assumed to be important (at least as indicated through hiring strategies, salary schedules, and teacher reform agendas). However, questions continue to persist about what exactly a quality teacher is. In other words, what teacher characteristics have been found to predict teacher effectiveness? This is a fundamental question that must precede policy discussions concerning what kinds of teacher qualities and qualifications to promote in aspiring teachers, whom to recruit and hire, what factors to use in setting salary schedules, and how to distribute teachers across different types of schools and classrooms to achieve equity and adequacy goals. This analysis examines the existing empirical literature on the relationship between teacher attributes and their effectiveness with the goal of informing policy on investing in teacher quality.

The next chapter describes the methodology used to review the literature on the relationship between teacher characteristics and their performance, and the chapter that follows presents the findings from this literature review. The final chapter concludes with a discussion of the implications of these findings for future research and policy.

1. The 1999-2000 NCES information is based on projected or preliminary data.

2. Of course, to the degree that reduced class sizes, overall educational spending, and teacher salaries are related to teacher quality, these can be viewed as investments in teacher quality, albeit indirect.

3. Rivkin, Hanushek, and Kain (1998) identify teachers as a major determinant of student performance, but do not describe teacher quality in terms of specific qualifications and characteristics. They show strong, systematic differences in expected achievement gains related to different teachers using a variance-components model.

4. Some have challenged the degree to which research supports the recommendations made by NCFAF. See Ballou & Podgursky (1997 , 1999, 2000) and, for a rebuttal, Darling-Hammond (2000).

5. Some argue that the qualifications identified in the NCLB legislation are more reflective of a “minimally qualified teacher” than a “highly qualified teacher.”

6. In contrast to many of the policy recommendations for stricter teacher qualifications, the Abell Foundation has recently released a report calling for the elimination of statewide coursework and certification requirements for teachers in favor of more flexible professional requirements (Abell Foundation 2001). Likewise, Hess (2002) argues for the deregulation of teacher preparation.

Jennifer King Rice is the Economic Policy Institute Research Associate and an associate professor in the Department of Education Policy and Leadership at the University of Maryland.

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An IEA-ETS Research Institute Journal

  • Open access
  • Published: 19 December 2022

Associations between teacher quality, instructional quality and student reading outcomes in Nordic PIRLS 2016 data

  • Kaisa Leino   ORCID: 1 ,
  • Kari Nissinen 1 &
  • Marjo Sirén 1  

Large-scale Assessments in Education volume  10 , Article number:  25 ( 2022 ) Cite this article

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Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) focuses on the reading proficiency of students mostly in the fourth year of schooling. A wide selection of studies has shown that family background and early literacy activities at home have substantial associations with student achievement in reading literacy. However, research focusing on teacher qualities and teaching processes is inadequate. In this study, we focus on associations of teacher quality (formal qualifications and professional identity) and instructional quality (classroom management, cognitive activation and teacher support) with cognitive and affective-motivational student outcomes (variables Reading Achievement, Students Confident in Reading, and Students Like Reading). We analyzed PIRLS 2016 data from four Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden), consisting altogether of 923 teachers and 17,161 students. Using path analysis, we considered selected background variables from teacher and student questionnaires in relation to the outcomes. Overall, the associations of student outcomes with teacher quality and instruction quality were found to be weak in all the countries, and there was little variation between the countries. The strongest association observed in all countries was the positive relation between Teacher Support Perceived by Students and Students Like Reading. Further, a positive Working Atmosphere in the Classroom tended to promote Reading Achievement and Students Confident in Reading. Teacher’s Specialization in reading and the language of the test was positively associated with Teacher’s Self-Efficacy in teaching reading, which in turn was related to measures of instructional quality. The implications for practice are discussed.


The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) conducts international comparative studies in education to enhance knowledge about education systems and the achievement of students. Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) has assessed the reading literacy achievement of students in their fourth year of schooling every five years since 2001. In addition to students’ reading achievement data, PIRLS also gathers background information about students’ home environment and support for literacy, as well as about instruction in classrooms, using questionnaires directed to parents, teachers and principals. Sweden and Norway have participated since 2001, Denmark since 2006 and Finland since 2011. In this study we use the data collected in 2016, when data were collected from fourth graders in Denmark, Finland and Sweden. In Norway the target population was fifth graders. However, due to differences in the schooling systems, students in all four countries were similar in age (average age 10.7–10.8 years). In 2016, among 50 participating countries, Finnish students were ranked 5th, Norwegian students were 8th, Swedish students were 12th, and Danish students were 18th (Mullis et al., 2017 , Student Achievement section).

Educational systems in Nordic countries are seen to be very similar (see, e.g., Volmari, 2019 ) and are often referred to collectively as the “Nordic Model,” although individual differences have existed and are increasing, even to the extent that some have questioned the whole existence of a common Nordic model (Frønes et al., 2020 ). The common goals and content of teaching reading are similar, yet such important issue as the level of teacher education differs. Reading is strongly embedded in the teaching of mother tongue or the language of the school (e.g., in Finland the subject called “mother tongue and literature” or “Swedish” in Sweden), but the subject has other content areas also. In addition, teaching reading is not the responsibility of just one teacher or limited to one school subject. Reading is an important way to acquire information in other subjects also, and therefore teaching reading is a cross-curricular activity in all the Nordic countries. Different levels of success in international comparative student assessments have yet again raised questions about whether the Nordic model is so uniform after all and what are the factors that influence students’ equal opportunity to learn.

Studies have found many factors affecting students’ reading skills and attitudes. Typically, the supportiveness of the home environment (Gustafsson et al., 2013 ; Hemmerechts et al., 2017 ; Mullis et al., 2017 , Home Environment Support section), socioeconomic background (Hemmerechts et al., 2017 ; Neff, 2015 ; Sirin, 2005 ; Støle et al., 2020 ), and engagement in reading (Ho & Lau, 2018 ; Wantchekon & Kim, 2019 ) are found to be important explanators of reading proficiency. Gender issues also arise regularly in literacy studies since gender difference in large-scale studies has for years favored girls (Gustafsson et al., 2013 ; OECD, 2019b , 141–149). However, Gustafsson et al. ( 2013 ) noted a stronger emphasis on literacy activities at home for girls than for boys, which may explain some of the differences.

Evidence concerning the relationship of teacher quality and reading outcomes is inconsistent or even missing in many large-scale studies (see also Nortvedt et al., 2016 ; Van Staden & Zimmerman, 2017 ). It has been suggested that not only teaching practices, but also teacher qualifications, the classroom atmosphere, and time spent learning have a link to student outcomes (e.g., Creemers & Kyriakides, 2008 ). For example, the high educational level of teachers has been noted as one of the key factors in the success of Finnish students in different international assessments (e.g., Crouch, 2015 ). Research on teacher quality has more often focused on, for example, student outcomes of mathematics (e.g., Blömeke et al., 2016 ) or science (e.g., Nilsen et al., 2018 ) than on reading. Seidel and Shavelson ( 2007 ) noted in their large meta-analysis that especially domain-specific learning activities and teachers’ knowledge of them affected the cognitive aspect of learning and also have an important role in promoting motivational outcomes, such as interest or self-efficacy.

Teachers’ actions and activities in the classroom derive from their formal education as well as from their beliefs and even individual characteristics. Goe ( 2007 , 8–9) has presented a framework where Teacher Quality is a combination of two inputs and classroom activities. The inputs consist of teacher qualifications (e.g., educational level, specialization, and participation in professional development) and characteristics that influence teachers’ instruction (e.g., attitudes, self-efficacy). Whereas teacher qualifications form through formal or informal education, characteristics are rather related to personal character traits and the view of oneself as a teacher. In this study, we use the concept of professional identity (Canrinus et al., 2012 ), which refers to teachers’ attitudes and beliefs about themselves as a teacher. Teachers reflect on their own teaching through their perception of skills and job satisfaction by mirroring their teaching to other teachers. It consists of beliefs, self-efficacy, and collaboration skills, which also form the basis for mastery of specific areas (Epstein & Hundert, 2002 ; Goe, 2007 ; Kunter et al., 2013 ; Nilsen et al., 2018 ).

Classroom practices form teaching quality, which includes, for example, planning, instructional delivery, classroom management and interactions with students (Goe, 2007 , 8–9). Pedagogical content knowledge (Shulman, 1986 ) can be considered a basis for teachers’ actions in the classroom. In this study, we use the concept of instructional quality (e.g., Nilsen & Gustafsson, 2016 ), which refers to a teacher’s knowledge and the quality of instructional practices that are put into use in the classroom, such as activating and supporting students and managing the working environment. Klieme et al. ( 2009 ), in their model of quality of instruction, divided teachers’ practices into (a) cognitive action and deep content, (b) classroom management, clarity and structure, and (c) a supportive climate.

A teacher’s instructional quality is of great significance in forming a well-functioning teacher-student relationship. According to Hattie’s ( 2009 ) meta-analysis, a constructive teacher-student relationship is more important for a student’s school success than the student’s socioeconomic background. Instructional quality is a key when a teacher aims to engage students in the learning at hand and activate their cognitive processes (Klieme et al., 2009 ). However, Goe ( 2007 ) has emphasized that teachers’ effectiveness cannot be measured only with dimensions related to teacher without considering student outcomes. In a study focusing on fourth-graders’ science skills in the TIMSS 2015 assessment, Nilsen et al. ( 2018 ) found that instructional quality correlated positively with science achievement, but not with a student’s intrinsic motivation.

Based on previous studies, we form a theoretical structure with three top concepts—teacher quality, instructional quality, and student outcomes. We employ path analysis in studying the relations of teacher quality and instructional quality to three student outcomes: students’ reading achievement in the PIRLS 2016 test, the level of students’ confidence in reading and how much students like to read. We use teacher and student data collected in four Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden) in the PIRLS 2016 assessment. Our aim is to examine which characteristics of teacher quality and instructional quality promote students’ proficiency in and attitudes towards reading to gain a better understanding of the qualities and skills needed in successful teaching. We analyze the data sets of each country separately. Our purpose is not to perform an in-depth analysis of between-country differences, but rather obtain an overview of which variables are associated with the reading-related student outcomes in these four countries.

Next, we define the main concepts and examine previous studies. The focus is on those factors that were measured in PIRLS. In that basis, we examine the theoretical background addressing two subdimensions of teacher quality—namely formal qualifications and professional identity—and three subdimensions of instructional quality—namely classroom management, cognitive activation and teacher support (see also Fig.  1 ). A presentation of our research questions as well as the variables and methods follows.

figure 1

General structure of path analysis models

Theoretical background and previous studies

  • Teacher quality

Formal qualifications

Formal qualifications refer to education received by the individual, including level of formal education and its content as well as in-service professional development activities. There are studies that focus on different subjects which state that more qualified teachers correlate with—though are not a guarantee for—better student achievements and provide students with more equal opportunities for success regardless of their socioeconomic statuses, race/ethnicity, or other individual backgrounds (e.g., Akiba et al., 2007 ; Clotfelter et al., 2010 ; Darling-Hammond, 2000 ). In these studies, the quality of the teacher is usually measured by teachers’ formal education level, such as a degree or certificate.

Teachers in Nordic countries usually have an extensive formal education . According to the PIRLS 2016 study (Mullis et al., 2017 , Teachers’ and Principals’ Preparation section, Exhibit 8.1), the majority of the participating teachers in Nordic countries were qualified through a teacher education program at a university or teacher college. According to the PIRLS 2016 data, Finland stands out in level of education: up to 92% of Finnish fourth-grade teachers had a postgraduate university degree, that is, a master’s or doctoral degree or equivalent, whereas in Norway the figure was 22%, in Sweden 13% and in Denmark 4%. A bachelor’s degree or equivalent was the highest degree for 81% of teachers in Sweden, for 79% in Denmark, for 73% in Norway, and for 6% in Finland. However, starting from 2017, teacher education in Norway has also been arranged in a five-year master’s degree program (Gabrielsen, 2017 ).

In the Nordic countries, reading is taught within all subjects throughout primary education. According to the PIRLS 2016 study (Mullis et al., 2017 , Teachers’ and Principals’ Preparation section, Exhibit 8.2), specialization in reading included in teachers’ formal education varied greatly between Nordic countries: Sweden had the highest number of students whose teacher had specialized in the language of the test (82%) and Denmark outnumbered others in pedagogy of reading (57%) and reading theory (42%). Finland had the least specialization in these three topics. Overall, the PIRLS 2016 results (Mullis et al., 2017 , Teachers’ and Principals’ Preparation section, Exhibit 8.2) showed no relationship between specialization in the language of the test and students’ average reading achievement. The same applied for specialization in pedagogy or reading theory.

According to the PIRLS 2016 study (Mullis et al., 2017 , Teachers’ and Principals’ Preparation section, Exhibit 8.4), participation in professional development also varied. In Norway 64% of students had teachers who had participated in at least six hours of professional development during the two years preceding the survey. The corresponding figure was 62% in Sweden, 43% in Denmark, and only 17% in Finland.

Blömeke et al. ( 2016 ) focused on mathematics achievement, which is not directly comparable to learning to read. They found that the teacher’s level of education showed significant positive relations to instructional quality and student achievement in mathematics in several countries, but student achievement was not well-predicted by instructional quality. In addition, participation in professional development was one of the strongest predictors of instructional quality across all 47 countries studied, including in the Nordic countries. Correspondingly, the ISCED level of teacher education was, on average, the strongest predictor of student achievement across all countries.

Professional identity

Professional identity refers to personal characteristics, such as teachers’ attitudes and beliefs towards their own skills, workplace and profession, the opportunity to influence student learning, and learning pedagogy in general. In the PIRLS 2016 context, a teacher’s professional identity can be studied through self-efficacy, job satisfaction and collaboration.

Teachers’ high self-efficacy —indicating a high level of confidence in possessing the knowledge and skills needed in successful teaching (e.g., Bong, 2006 )—has been shown to have significant and positive relations with instructional quality and student achievement (Nilsen et al., 2018 ). Furthermore, teachers with high self-efficacy are able to create and promote surroundings that enhance job satisfaction (Caprara et al., 2006 ).

Evans ( 1997 ) defines job satisfaction as “a state of mind determined by the extent to which the individual perceives her/his job-related needs to be being met” (p. 328). Furthermore, job satisfaction consists of two main components: job comfort and job fulfilment. The former refers to how satisfactory conditions and circumstances are to an individual, and the latter refers to self-assessment of personal accomplishments within meaningful aspects of the job (Evans, 1997 ). Banerjee et al. ( 2017 ) found that teacher job satisfaction has a modest but significant and direct association with students’ reading achievement (see also Caprara et al., 2006 ). According to Dicke et al. ( 2020 ), different aspects of teacher quality are interdependent, showing both direct and indirect associations with teacher job satisfaction and student outcomes.

Teacher collaboration is often connected to school activities such as professional development within school, but it is also related to job satisfaction and belonging to the work community. According to TALIS results (OECD, 2019c , cp. 4), teachers who took part in the interdependent forms of collaboration reported high job satisfaction and self-efficacy levels and they used cognitive activation practices in teaching more frequently than other teachers did. Despite the unclarity of causality, some studies (e.g., Fuglestad et al., 2017 ; Goddard & Tschannen-Moran, 2007 ; Ronfeldt et al., 2015 ) have found clear associations between higher marks in mathematics and reading and teacher collaboration for improvement in issues such as curriculum, instruction, and professional development. Nilsen et al. ( 2018 ), studying the Nordic countries, found an improved level of instructional quality (self-reported) among science teachers who collaborate more often than other teachers do. In addition, their findings included better results in student achievement and greater student motivation to learn science.

  • Instructional quality

Classroom management

Classroom management refers to organizing the students’ work in the classroom and disciplinary practices, such as reducing distractions (Doyle, 1986 ). Studies have shown that student-centered classrooms, where teachers and students engage in interpersonal interaction, facilitate high student achievement and positive learning environments (Freiberg, 2013 ; Freiberg et al., 2009 ). Korpershoek et al. ( 2016 ) found that effective classroom management creates a positive learning atmosphere and significantly increases students’ academic achievement and decreases behavioral problems. Instead, feelings of fear or being bullied at school usually result in lower achievement (e.g., Milam et al., 2010 ; Ponzo, 2012 ).

One way of classroom management is organizing and grouping students in the class. Social interaction about reading may help students see different views (Almasi & Garas-York, 2009 ), argument their understanding (Unrau, 1992 ), and understand the social aspect of reading (Alvermann & Moje, 2013 ). Working with other students promotes student engagement and is related to better achievement (Hattie, 2009 ). Grouping can be done randomly or by students’ abilities, which is not, however, entirely unambiguous. Lleras and Rangel ( 2009 ), among others, found in their study of elementary students that low performing students may experience homogeneous groupings negatively while more skilled students may benefit from working with students of similar level. However, struggling readers benefit from instruction given individually, in pairs, or in very small groups instead of whole class instruction (Elbaum et al., 1999 ; Hattie, 2009 ; Vaughn et al., 2003 ).

In teaching reading, teachers can also decide whether to use teacher-led read-aloud or independent reading in the classroom. Independent reading in school reinforces out-of-school reading and with intentional instruction it consolidates and helps to take ownership of reading skills and strategies (ILA, 2018 ).

Cognitive activation

To enhance learning, teachers use cognitive activation , that is, instructional approaches and learning tasks that aim to help students learn different kinds of strategies so they can analyze, evaluate and create information (e.g., Klieme et al., 2009 ). In the context of reading skills, cognitive activation includes tasks for students to read aloud or in silent and content-related tasks at lessons or at home. Students reading aloud by themselves enhances their memory (e.g., Lafleur & Boucher, 2015 ). Robinson et al. ( 2018 ) found that among students with reading disabilities, oral reading facilitated higher reading comprehension than silent reading did. Reutzel et al. ( 2008 ), however, found that scaffolded silent reading (ScSR) improved third-grade students’ fluency and comprehension as effectively as guided repeated oral reading (GROR) among students with no reading difficulties.

Sometimes teachers also read to students. A teacher’s reading aloud is a normal part of elementary school work in many countries and teachers in the primary grades frequently read to their students, but in the upper grades, teachers do not necessarily read aloud to students despite the numerous benefits it has even for older students (Ariail & Albright, 2005 ; ILA, 2018 ; Jacobs et al., 2000 ). Reading aloud to a child has a positive effect on children’s language development and vocabulary, especially when involving versatile texts and combined with various activities that support learning, such as naming the objects and things in the book and using the words learned in other situations (e.g., Lane & Wright, 2007 ; Wasik & Bond, 2001 ). It is also connected to increased enthusiasm for reading and willingness to read later in life, as well as higher academic achievements (see e.g., Ariail & Albright, 2005 ; Lerkkanen et al., 2018 ; Torppa et al., 2022 ). According to Hurst and Griffity ( 2015 ), reading to students models fluent reading and provides opportunities for discussion and hence hearing the text read aloud most benefits the less fluent readers.

Regardless of who has read the text, effective instruction includes tasks that support learning. The main comprehension processes of reading, which are also evaluated in the PIRLS study (Mullis & Martin, 2015 ), include finding and using information, making inferences, interpreting and integrating ideas and information as well as evaluating the content and textual elements (see also OECD, 2019a , Ch. 2). To reinforce these processes, teachers can create a discussion of what has been read by selecting appropriate questions (Morgan & Meier, 2008 ). Teachers activate students’ learning by asking them to do tasks such as thinking about their prior knowledge, connecting information to their own lives, comparing texts with similar content or summarizing the content. These cognitive activations before, during and after reading help students to gain skills and metacognitive strategies to better master the comprehension processes (e.g., Baker & Beall, 2009 ). This may benefit student outcomes in many ways. Huang and Chen ( 2018 ), using PIRLS 2011 data from Hong Kong, showed that the frequency of reading strategy instruction was significantly related to student attitudes toward reading and motivation to read, and student attitudes toward reading were significantly associated with reading achievement. Berge et al. ( 2017 ) found that Norwegian teachers guided fourth-grade students to use reading strategies only monthly, which was considered to be too seldom, and, in addition, they guided more often to use less effective metacognitive strategies than highly effective in-depth strategies.

Cognitive activation may extend beyond the classroom. Giving homework for students is a common pedagogical practice to reinforce daily learning and foster study skills (Bempechat, 2004 ). There is some evidence that homework completion relates positively to academic achievement (Cooper et al., 1998 ). Bempechat ( 2004 ), however, emphasizes that the value of homework cannot be measured only with test grades because the type and the aim of the homework varies as well as the quality and amount of support for homework given by parents at home. For example, giving reading homework at school is not limited only to reading lessons and the process of the reading is different for increasing fluency compared to reading to learn. Hattie’s ( 2009 ) analysis refers to the finding that homework may be more beneficial in older age and for already better students. However, this may correlate to student’s socioeconomic background and parental involvement, which may give an advantage to some students in the form of home support, as Bempechat ( 2004 ) suggests, adding that older students may also have better learning skills to perform tasks by themselves without a teacher’s support.

Teacher support

The third important form of instructional quality is teacher support for students. Hamre, Pianta and their colleagues (Hamre & Pianta, 2007 ; Hamre et al., 2007 ) define three different kinds of support in the classroom: emotional, organizational, and instructional. Emotional support influences classroom climate and how the student feels that he or she is being encountered as an individual (see also Federici & Skaalvik, 2014 ). Emotional support also refers to the degree to which the teacher encourages and conveys confidence in students’ abilities (Strati et al., 2017 ). Organizational support, as mentioned earlier, refers to how a teacher is able to maintain peaceful working conditions and make activities progress smoothly. Instructional support includes teachers’ efforts to help students with the task at hand and to develop their learning, higher-order thinking skills, and working skills. Teacher support has been linked to better learning engagement and outcomes (Curby et al., 2013 ; Jensen et al., 2019 ; Klem & Connell, 2004 ). According to Curby et al. ( 2013 ), different kinds of support also correlate: emotional support given in an early stage predicted higher instructional support later on, and vice versa. Relations may not always be as straightforward. A study among Norwegian first-graders (Jensen et al., 2019 ) showed significant positive relations between teachers’ emotional support and students’ self-concept, which then mediated the effect on reading achievement. In reading development, teacher support is essential in facilitating students’ reading development through strategy instruction and engaging them in independent and collaborative reading activities (Ho & Lau, 2018 ; Housand & Reis, 2008 ).

As previously presented, a teacher’s effectiveness is a sum of many instructional factors. However, some commonalities can be highlighted. Stronge et al. ( 2007 ) found that effective teachers demonstrated a higher degree of fairness toward students and that they understood the need to alter the lesson materials in order to reach different kinds and levels of learners. They noticed that even though effective as well as less effective teachers asked the same number of lower-level questions, the effective teachers asked approximately seven times more higher-level questions (i.e., application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation). In addition, effective teachers had much less disruptive behavior of students. Finally, Yair ( 2000 ) has proposed that effective teachers also motivate students by connecting the task at hand to reality, which emphasizes the relevance of the task.

Research questions

The aim of our study was to examine the relations of teachers’ education, attitudes and classroom activities with students’ reading-related outcomes in four Nordic countries, using the variables available in PIRLS 2016 data. Our research questions (RQ) derived from findings reported in recent literature on associations between student outcomes and characteristics of teachers and instruction, described above. Accordingly, the variables to be considered were selected from the available data on the basis of findings reported in literature. The interrelations between teacher quality and instructional quality, and their associations with student outcomes, were analyzed through path models. Even though we analyzed each country separately, we did not include the possible between-country differences in the research questions, as our central target was to investigate variables that may affect student outcomes in the context of Nordic countries.

The general structure of the model, which was the starting point of our analysis, is illustrated in Fig.  1 . According to the suppositions of the path model, the associations are directed in the sense that there are dependent variables whose variance is explained by independent variables. From this viewpoint we can also call associations ‘effects’, although the cross-sectional nature of data does not allow strictly causal inferences. In the model, we hypothesize causality between the subdimensions of teacher quality, that is, we assume that formal qualifications can affect professional identity. Regarding instructional quality, we do not hypothesize such causality. Therefore, the subdimensions of teacher quality and instructional quality are treated differently in the model.

We hypothesize that teachers’ formal qualifications are associated with their professional identity, which in turn associates with instructional quality, and this finally associates with student outcomes (Fig.  1 ). But, in addition, we allow for the possibility that formal qualifications affect directly both instructional quality and student outcomes, and professional identity affects directly student outcomes. Student outcomes may thus depend on teacher characteristics both directly and indirectly. However, within this conceptual upper level path structure, our approach is exploratory at the level of variables. This means that we do not explicitly hypothesize any associations between the observed variables which measure teacher quality and instructional quality or are student outcomes. Instead, we let the empirical data suggest through significance tests which associations are relevant and which are not.

The research questions are as follows:

RQ 1. How are teachers’ formal qualifications associated with professional identity? Are formal qualifications directly associated with instructional quality, and reading-related outcomes of ten-year-old students?

RQ 2. How is professional identity associated with instructional quality? Is instructional quality directly associated with reading-related outcomes of fourth (fifth) graders?

RQ 3. How is instructional quality associated with reading-related outcomes of fourth (fifth) graders?

We employed the PIRLS 2016 assessment data from four Nordic countries: Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. In each country, the PIRLS data are collected with a stratified cluster sampling design, where one to four classrooms are drawn from each sampled school, and principally every student in the classroom is tested. The hierarchical nature of the data was taken into account in all statistical analyses. Background data concerning students and their families as well as teachers were collected with student and teacher questionnaires.

We merged the national PIRLS 2016 teacher questionnaire data set with the respective student-level data sets. In total, the Danish data consisted of 186 teachers and 3,508 students, while the Finnish data consisted of 295 teachers and 4,896 students, the Norwegian data consisted of 215 teachers and 4,232 students, and the Swedish data consisted of 227 teachers and 4,525 students. In the data sets there was a perfect one-to-one match of teachers and classrooms so that each student had precisely one teacher in the data. In the Danish data, on average there were 3,508/186 = 18.9 students per teacher. In Finland, the respective ratio was 16.6, in Norway 19.7, and in Sweden 19.9 students per teacher.

The students were fourth-grade students in all countries except for in Norway, where they were in fifth grade. The average age of the students was 10.7 years in Sweden and 10.8 years in all the other Nordic countries (Mullis et al., 2017 , About PIRLS 2016 section). Next, we describe the different variables used in the study.

Student outcome variables

Student outcomes included three different variables: Reading Achievement, Students Confident in Reading and Students Like Reading. Reading Achievement in PIRLS consists of two major purposes of reading (Mullis & Martin, 2015 ): reading for literary experience, and to acquire and use information. In both purposes the processes of comprehension are the following: (a) focus on and retrieve explicitly stated information, (b) make straightforward inferences, (c) interpret and integrate ideas and information, and (d) evaluate and critique content and textual elements. In measuring reading achievement in this study, we utilized five plausible values (variables ASRREA01–ASRREA05) available in the PIRLS student data. Plausible values are estimates of the latent proficiency of a student, based on the student’s success in the PIRLS reading literacy test and conditioned on background information (Foy & Yin, 2017 ). The estimated test reliability of the PIRLS 2016 reading assessment was 0.88 for Denmark, 0.88 for Finland, 0.87 for Norway, and 0.88 for Sweden, with the international median reliability being 0.89 (Martin et al., 2017 , Exhibit 10.7, p. 10.15).

To examine whether students are confident in reading and whether students like reading, we employed two scale variables (ASBGSCR = Students Confident in Reading scale, and ASBGSLR = Students Like Reading scale) derived from student questionnaire statements by the PIRLS International Study Center, using IRT methodology. The Students Confident in Reading scale was based on six statements (Martin et al., 2017 , Appendix 14A, p. 14.83), and its reliability was 0.83 in Denmark, 0.80 in Finland, 0.82 in Norway, and 0.82 in Sweden. The Students Like Reading scale was based on ten statements (Martin et al., 2017 , Appendix 14A, p. 14.91), and its reliability was 0.85 in Denmark, 0.89 in Finland, 0.87 in Norway, and 0.88 in Sweden.

Controlling variables

Earlier studies have shown that students’ reading achievement tends to be correlated with socioeconomic status, gender, and whether the test is taken in the student’s home language (e.g., Mullis et al., 2017 ; OECD, 2019b ). It is thus possible that such background variables may intervene in the relation of teacher and instruction to the student outcomes: outcomes may be better if the student has favorable background characteristics, independent of the quality of teacher and instruction. We wanted to reduce the risk of distorted analysis by controlling for three student questionnaire variables typically associated with reading achievement: Male Gender of student (derived from variable ITSEX in the student data set), Home Language, meaning the frequency the students speak the language of test at home (variable ASBG03 in the student data set, scale inverted), and Number of Books at Home (variable ASBG04 in the student data set) which is typically included when measuring socioeconomic status of the family. We did not use data collected from parents due to the large amount of missing data in some countries.

Variables measuring teacher quality

We originally considered over 20 background variables or indices obtained from the PIRLS teacher questionnaire. The variables representing teacher quality were grouped into two subdimensions, namely, teacher’s formal qualifications and professional identity.

The variables measuring formal qualifications were the following: highest level of completed Formal Education (variable ATBG04 in the teacher data set, measured on the ISCED scale), a sum index measuring Teacher’s Specialization in reading pedagogy and the language of the test as a part of formal education, constructed from six items (variables ATBG05BA, ATBG05BB, ATBG05BC, ATBG05BE, ATBG05BF, ATBG05BI) in the teacher questionnaire, and Participating in Professional Development that related to teaching reading in the past 2 years (variable ATBG06 in the teacher data set).

Professional identity was represented by three variables: Teacher Collaboration, Job Satisfaction, and Teacher’s Self-Efficacy, which were factor scores constructed from statements in the teacher questionnaire. Teacher Collaboration was formed from five statements (variables ATBG09A–ATBG09E), dealing with several types of interactions with other teachers. The reliability of this score was 0.74 for Denmark, 0.78 for Finland, 0.76 for Norway, and 0.80 for Sweden. Similarly, Job Satisfaction was formed from five statements (variables ATBG10A–ATBG10E). The reliability of this score was 0.91 for Denmark, 0.93 for Finland, 0.91 for Norway, and 0.89 for Sweden. Teacher’s Self-Efficacy was formed from six statements in the teacher questionnaire. These statements were a national option in the Nordic countries (i.e., they were not used in all PIRLS countries, and their variable names also vary between the national data sets). They concerned how confident teachers felt in performing various tasks related to teaching reading to their classes. The reliability of this measure was 0.83 for Denmark, 0.86 for Finland, 0.77 for Norway, and 0.82 for Sweden.

Variables measuring instructional quality

The instructional quality was considered through three subdimensions: classroom management, cognitive activation, and teacher support. Variables obtained from the background questionnaires were grouped accordingly. Classroom management was examined with three statements in the teacher questionnaire and one index variable extracted from statements in the student questionnaire. The teacher questionnaire statements concerned creating same-ability student groups when teaching reading (variable ATBR08B), creating mixed-ability student groups when teaching reading (variable ATBR08C), and allowing students to work independently (variable ATBR08E). From the student questionnaire we employed six statements in creating an index of Working Atmosphere in the Classroom, perceived by students. These statements also were a national option in the Nordic countries, and they concerned, for instance, the frequency of noise and disorder in the classroom. Again, the index was a factor score. The reliability of this measure was 0.85 for Denmark, 0.82 for Finland, 0.84 for Norway, and 0.84 for Sweden.

To evaluate the c ognitive activation of students, we considered several items in the teacher questionnaire. First, we looked at a set of items dealing with reading in the classroom: how often the teacher reads aloud to students (variable ATBR10A), how often the teacher asks students to read aloud (variable ATBR10B), and how often the teacher asks students to read silently on their own (variable ATBR10C). Then, we considered an index of Activating Students to talk or write about what they had read. This was a factor score formed from three statements (variables ATBR13A–ATBR13C). The reliability of this index was 0.66 for Denmark, 0.69 for Finland, 0.82 for Norway, and 0.83 for Sweden. The appearance of rather low reliabilities (Denmark, Finland) is not that unexpected, given the small number of items in the index. Finally, we used the question asking how often the teacher assigns reading as homework (variable ATBR17).

Teacher support was examined through five variables. From the teacher questionnaire, we first created an index, which we call Student Encouragement. This was again a factor score extracted from five questionnaire items, mainly dealing with encouraging students in various activities related to reading (variables ATBR11C–ATBR11G). The reliability of this index was 0.85 for Denmark, 0.84 for Finland, 0.85 for Norway, and 0.80 for Sweden. Next, we employed two questions concerning the frequency of feedback to students (variables ATBR11I and ATBR19A), and time spent working individually with a student who struggles with reading (variable ATBR21C). Finally, we employed an index of Teacher Support Perceived by Students. This was a factor score derived from four statements in the student questionnaire (variables ASBR01F–ASBR01I), concerning encouragement and advice received from the teacher. The reliability of this index was 0.78 for Denmark, 0.79 for Finland, 0.74 for Norway, and 0.77 for Sweden.

We examined the relations of teacher quality (in terms of formal qualifications and professional identity), instructional quality (in terms of classroom management, cognitive activation and teacher support), and student outcomes (Reading Achievement, Students Confident in Reading and Students Like Reading), illustrated in Fig.  1 above, by path analysis. We performed the path analyses under the framework of structural equation modelling (e.g., Bowen & Guo, 2012 ; Maruyama, 1998 ), and each country was considered separately. As the latent factor structures were not of our interest, we did not consider any measurement models in our analysis in order to keep the models reasonably simple. All variables in the analysis were therefore regarded as manifest variables. We first employed exploratory factor analyses to create scales and index variables to be used in the path models and estimate their reliabilities. It is worth mentioning that the PIRLS data already contain well validated (manifest) sum indices created by the consortium, such as the Students Confident in Reading Scale and the Students Like Reading Scale. Regarding the aim of our study, re-evaluating the validity of these indices by introducing latent structures in our models would not bring added value.

We were only interested in correlational relations of the chosen variables (in terms of regression coefficients); we did not aim to examine any mean structures or estimate population variances. Therefore, we used the correlation matrix of the variables as the input data, meaning that we treated all variables as (nationally) standardized. In calculating the correlations, listwise deletion of missing data was adopted.

The structural equation models, including path models, are usually applied for confirmatory purposes. However, the number of variables representing teacher quality and instructional quality, which are potentially relevant in explaining the variance of student outcomes or other variables, was large, and, additionally, the variables tend to be correlated with each other. For this reason, we first conducted preliminary path analyses in an exploratory sense to sieve out variables which did not show any explanatory power and/or suffered from collinearity problems. These analyses were carried out separately for each country, and all the variables were included in these analyses together. We carefully examined the results of the preliminary analyses and consequently reduced the number of variables to be used in the eventual path modelling. Variables, which did not show statistically significant relations with other variables in any of the four countries or showed excessive overlap with other variables in the models, were dropped from the final modelling phase. We considered a relation statistically non-significant when its p value was larger than 0.10. The preliminary analysis resulted in a remarkably reduced number of variables for final analysis. The remaining variables are presented at the beginning of the Results section.

We included the controlling variables (Male Gender, Home Language, and Number of Books at Home) in all models, regardless of their statistical significance.

We performed all analyses at the student level (i.e., the unit of analysis was student), and applied student weights scaled to sum up to national sample sizes in all analyses (such weights are called house weights in the PIRLS context). The clustering of students was taken into account by introducing classroom as the clustering variable, to correct for otherwise underestimated standard errors.

As Reading Achievement was operationalized through five plausible values (Martin et al., 2017 , pp. 12.14–12.15), we used them in the analyses. That is, we performed all analyses five times, only varying the plausible value included in the model, and then merged the five obtained results to produce single estimates using the multiple imputation methodology. This is the recommended approach for the analysis of large assessment data with plausible values as it adequately handles the uncertainty related to estimating latent proficiency (Khorramdel et al., 2020 ; Rutkowski et al., 2010 ; von Davier et al., 2009 ; Wu, 2005 ).

The path analyses were performed with the Mplus 7 software (Muthén & Muthén, 2015 ). The “complex option” for analyzing clustered survey data was used, and the chosen estimation method was MLR, which is maximum likelihood robust to non-normality and non-independent observations. The standard errors were computed using a sandwich estimator, supported by Mplus, which is an alternative to the replicate weights (jackknife) approach for complex sampling designs. The analysis of plausible values and the respective multiple imputations were performed by the imputation facility of Mplus. The model fit was assessed with the usual goodness-of-fit criteria (standardized root mean square residual SRMR, root mean square error of approximation RMSEA, comparative fit index CFI, Tucker-Lewis index TLI) of structural equation models (see, e.g., Bentler, 1995 ; Steiger & Lind, 1980 ). Exploratory factor analyses to create factor score variables and estimate their reliabilities were performed by the Factor procedure of SAS® software, using iterative principal axis factoring.

Results of preliminary analysis

As mentioned above, several variables were dropped from the final analysis, based on their statistically non-significant (i.e., p  > 0.10) performance in the preliminary analyses, or excessive collinearity with other variables. In the following, we describe the main findings of the preliminary analyses. It is informative to recognize not only variables with explanatory power, but also variables, which are not associated with other variables of interest. We do not present the details of preliminary results, because the size of the results tables would become very large.

Considering teacher quality, two variables measuring formal qualifications remained for the final modelling phase, namely Teacher’s Specialization in reading pedagogy and language of the test and Participating in Professional Development. The highest level of completed Formal Education did not have any significant associations in the models. Of the variables measuring professional identity, Teacher Collaboration and Job Satisfaction were dropped; thus Teacher’s Self-Efficacy was the only variable employed in final models.

Considering instructional quality, the subdimensions of classroom management and teacher support only had statistical significance. However, not all variables were relevant in them either. The only remaining variable, which represented c lassroom management, was Working Atmosphere in the Classroom (perceived by students), meaning that grouping students according to their ability or allowing them to work independently had no role in the paths explaining variance in student outcomes. Similarly, the only remaining variable representing teacher support was Teacher Support Perceived by Students. Students’ view regarding teacher support thus seems most significant while teachers’ responses about encouraging students, helping them individually, or frequency of feedback were not associated with outcomes. The five variables measuring c ognitive activation (e.g., students reading aloud, reading as homework, and Activating Students) were all dropped. These findings were uniform in all four countries.

Based on the findings of preliminary analysis, we decided to start the final modelling phase with the path model illustrated in Fig.  2 . Teacher’s Specialization and Participating in Professional Development explain Teacher’s Self-Efficacy, which then explains Working Atmosphere in the Classroom and Teacher Support Perceived by Students, which eventually explain student outcomes (Reading Achievement, Students Confident in Reading and Students Like Reading). On the other hand, we let the controlling variables (Male Gender, Home Language, Number of Books at Home) have direct effects on the outcomes. Both the controlling variables and the variables of teacher quality and instructional quality were entered into the model simultaneously. The explanatory variables and error terms were allowed to be correlated when needed. During the modelling process some paths postulated in Fig.  2 appeared non-significant in some countries. We did not keep them in the final models to be reported, because we wanted to respect the principle of model parsimony (e.g., Bentler & Mooijaart, 1989 ), while seeking as good-fitting a model as possible for each country. In addition, Denmark appeared different from the other countries in that we had to add two extra paths (from Teacher’s Specialization and Participating in Professional Development to Teacher Support Perceived by Students) to model in Fig.  2 , to obtain a model of sufficient fit. Consequently, the final models of the countries were not completely similar. The country-specific results are presented in more detail in what follows. In all the figures significance levels are indicated as follows: ***p < 0.001; **p < 0.01; *p < 0.05; +p < 0.10. The correlation matrices of the variables used in the final analysis are shown in appendices A–D (Additional file 1).

figure 2

Variables and paths in the path analysis model

Main results by country

We present the estimated path model for Denmark in Fig.  3 . For clarity, we have omitted the part of the controlling variables from the figure. We present the numerical results for controlling variables in Table 1 instead. Figure  3 shows the standardized path coefficient estimates and their standard errors, as well as the non-zero error correlations among error terms. The model fit was good: SRMR = 0.03, RMSEA = 0.01, CFI = 0.98, TLI = 0.97. The number of students used in the estimation was n  = 2896, and number of classrooms (teachers) was 176. It is worth noting that in the following models the standard errors of the relations between the teacher quality variables (Teacher’s Specialization, Professional Development and Self-Efficacy) are larger than the other standard errors, because these variables are measured at teacher level, while the others are measured at student level. In Fig.  3 this is seen in the standard error of the relation between Teacher’s Specialization and Self-Efficacy.

figure 3

Path analysis model for Denmark

First, we look at the results regarding the controlling variables (Table 1 ). In Denmark, Number of Books at Home clearly had the strongest associations with outcomes. Male Gender had a small negative association with Reading Achievement and Students Like Reading. The students with the same Home Language as the test language achieved slightly better in reading than the others did, but they also liked reading less. These three controlling variables together explained 11.9% (R 2  = 0.119) of variance in Reading Achievement, 3.8% (R 2  = 0.038) of variance in Students Confident in Reading, and 9.1% (R 2  = 0.091) of variance in Students Like Reading. There was a small but significant correlation (0.09) between Number of Books at Home and Home Language, meaning that the Number of Books at Home tends to be higher in homes where the language spoken is the same as the language used in PIRLS test. Male Gender was not associated with Home Language or Number of Books at Home.

When we look at the associations between variables measuring teacher quality and instructional quality, and student outcomes (Fig.  3 ), we note that the estimated path coefficients are generally very small even if they are statistically significant at the adopted 10% level. Thus, the teacher quality and instructional quality does not seem to transfer strongly to positive student outcomes. In the Danish data both Teacher’s Specialization and Participating in Professional Development had a significant direct effect on Teacher Support Perceived by Students. These effects were not included in the starting model (and they did not appear in any other country), but they were very small anyway. By far the strongest association was found between Teacher Support Perceived by Students and Students Like Reading, indicating that students who have a positive experience of the teacher’s support in the classroom tend to like reading more. Teacher’s Specialization was associated with Teacher’s Self-Efficacy, but this association was not strong.

The weak associations are mirrored in the low values of R-squared. Overall, the model explains 3.3% (R 2  = 0.033) of variance in Teacher’s Self-Efficacy, 1.9% (R 2  = 0.019) of variance in Working Atmosphere in the Classroom, and 1.8% of variance in Teacher Support Perceived by Students. The R-squared of the overall model is 12.6% (R 2  = 0.126) for Reading Achievement, 4.7% (R 2  = 0.047) for Students Confident in Reading, and 22.2% (R 2  = 0.222) for Students Like Reading. But when we subtract the variance explained by the controlling variables from these R-squared values, we find that teacher quality and instructional quality explain 13.1% of variance in Students Like Reading, but only 0.7% of variance in Reading Achievement, and 0.9% of variance in Students Confident in Reading. The amount of explained variance in Students Like Reading is conclusively due to Teacher Support Perceived by Students.

The errors of Reading Achievement and Students Confident in Reading were quite strongly correlated (0.47). Their correlations with the error of Students Like Reading were weaker. In addition, the errors of Working Atmosphere in the Classroom and Teacher Support Perceived by Students were positively correlated (0.25). As for Formal Qualifications, correlation of Teacher’s Specialization with Participating in Professional Development was zero in the Danish data.

Next, we turn to the path model estimated for Finland (Fig.  4 ; Table 2 ). The values of the goodness-of-fit criteria again showed good fit: SRMR = 0.03, RMSEA = 0.02, CFI = 0.96, TLI = 0.95. The number of students used in the estimation was n  = 4387, and number of classrooms (teachers) was 288.

figure 4

Path analysis model for Finland

The Finnish results regarding the controlling variables (Table 2 ) were largely similar to those observed in Denmark. Again, the Number of Books at Home was positively associated with student outcomes, while Male Gender was negatively associated with them. The students with the same Home Language as the test language achieved slightly better scores in reading than the others did. In Finland, the controlling variables explained 13.5% (R 2  = 0.135) of variance in Reading Achievement, 3.8% (R 2  = 0.038) of variance in Students Confident in Reading, and 9.1% (R 2  = 0.091) of variance in Students Like Reading (the last two R-squared values were exactly the same as in Denmark). The controlling variables were not correlated with each other in Finland.

In Finland both Teacher’s Specialization and Participating in Professional Development were statistically significantly associated with Teacher’s Self-Efficacy. Actually, among the four Nordic countries the relation between Participating in Professional Development and Teacher’s Self-Efficacy was found to be significant in Finland only, while the relation between Teacher’s Specialization and Teacher’s Self-Efficacy appeared to be significant in all countries. The link from Teacher’s Self-Efficacy to instructional quality was negligible, although there was a small statistically significant path coefficient to Working Atmosphere in the Classroom (Fig.  4 ). It seems again that teacher quality (when measured with the chosen variables) does not necessarily result in high instructional quality. Furthermore, the relations between measures of instructional quality and student outcomes are small except the one between Teacher Support Perceived by Students and Students Like Reading (standardized path coefficient 0.36). The same was already observed in the Danish data.

The Finnish model explained 13.8% (R 2  = 0.138) of variance in Teacher’s Self-Efficacy and only 0.5% (R 2  = 0.005) of variance in Working Atmosphere in the Classroom. There were no significant explanatory variables for Teacher Support Perceived by Students. The R-squared of the overall model was 15.4% (R 2  = 0.154) for Reading Achievement, 5.9% (R 2  = 0.059) for Students Confident in Reading, and 20.7% (R 2  = 0.207) for Students Like Reading, but when we remove the variance explained by the controlling variables, we find that the contribution of teacher quality and instructional quality to the R-squared was 1.9% for Reading Achievement, 2.1% for Students Confident in Reading, and 11.6% for Students Like Reading.

The correlation of errors of Reading Achievement and Students Confident in Reading was 0.36 in Finland, and the correlation of errors of Working Atmosphere in the Classroom and Teacher Support Perceived by Students was 0.14. Unlike in Denmark, Teacher’s Specialization and Participating in Professional Development had a positive correlation (0.25) in Finland, so that in Finland teachers with specialization in reading pedagogy and language of the test as a part of their formal degree had participated somewhat more often in formal professional development.

The path model results for Norway are presented in Fig.  5 and Table 3 . The model fit was again good: SRMR = 0.02, RMSEA = 0.01, CFI = 0.99, TLI = 0.99. The number of students used in the estimation was n  = 3676, and the number of classrooms (teachers) was 207.

figure 5

Path analysis model for Norway

The results for Norway were close to those obtained for Finland. The main difference between the Norwegian and Finnish models is that there is no significant direct effect of Participating in Professional Development in Norway.

The controlling variables explained 10.0% (R 2  = 0.100) of variance in Reading Achievement in Norway, while the respective R-squared was 4.4% (R 2  = 0.044) for Students Confident in Reading, and 5.9% (R 2  = 0.059) for Students Like Reading in Norway. Number of Books at Home was again the variable with the strongest contribution. Like in Denmark, there was a small but significant correlation (0.10) between Number of Books at Home and Home Language. Male Gender also had a small negative association with Number of Books at Home (correlation − 0.09).

In the Norwegian data, the model explained 5.0% (R 2  = 0.005) of variance in Teacher’s Self-Efficacy and 1.3% (R 2  = 0.013) of variance in Working Atmosphere in the Classroom. Like in Finland, there were no significant explanatory variables for Teacher Support Perceived by Students. The R-squared of the overall model was 10.7% (R 2  = 0.107) for Reading Achievement, 5.5% (R 2  = 0.055) for Students Confident in Reading, and 16.1% (R 2  = 0.161) for Students Like Reading. By subtracting the contribution of the controlling variables, we found that the variables representing teacher quality and instructional quality only explained 0.7% of the variance in Reading Achievement, and 1.1% of variance in Students Confident in Reading in Norway. The explained variance for Students Like Reading was again the largest being 10.2%. Again, this resulted mainly from the positive contribution of Teacher Support Perceived by Students.

The errors of Reading Achievement, Students Confident in Reading and Students Like Reading were all correlated in Norway also. The highest correlation (0.41) was again met between Reading Achievement and Students Confident in Reading. The correlation of errors of Working Atmosphere in the Classroom and Teacher Support Perceived by Students was 0.20. Teacher’s Specialization and Participating in Professional Development had a positive correlation (0.22) in Norway. This is again close to the value observed in the Finnish data.

Finally, we present the results for Sweden in Fig.  6 and Table 4 . Again, the goodness-of-fit criteria indicated good model fit: SRMR = 0.02, RMSEA = 0.01, GFI = 0.99, CFI = 0.98. The number of students used in the estimation was n  = 3757, and number of classrooms (teachers) was 217.

figure 6

Path analysis model for Sweden

The key findings for Sweden did not differ from those already obtained in other Nordic countries. There was a positive association between Teacher’s Specialization and Teacher’s Self-Efficacy, but the further connections to instructional quality were weak. Like in the other countries, the strongest association between instructional quality and student outcomes was the one between Teacher Support Perceived by Students and Students Like Reading.

The controlling variables explained 14.5% (R 2  = 0.145) of variance in Reading Achievement in Sweden, and the respective R-squared was 2.9% (R 2  = 0.029) for Students Confident in Reading, and 7.7% (R 2  = 0.077) for Students Like Reading. The correlation between Number of Books at Home and Home Language (being the same as the language of the test) was larger (0.19) in Sweden than in the other countries. Male Gender had a small negative association with Number of Books at Home (correlation − 0.09) in Sweden also.

The model for Sweden explained 7.4% of (R 2  = 0.074) variance in Teacher’s Self-Efficacy (resulting from the effect of Teacher’s Specialization in reading pedagogy and language of the test), but only 0.9% (R 2  = 0.009) of variance in Working Atmosphere in the Classroom and 0.3% (R 2  = 0.003) of variance in Teacher Support Perceived by Students. This again gives rise to the conclusion that formal qualifications and professional identity of teacher are not associated with instructional quality in the Nordic countries (as measured with the PIRLS questionnaires).

For students’ Reading Achievement, the R-squared of the overall model was 16.2% (R 2  = 0.162) in Sweden. The respective values were 5.5% (R 2  = 0.055) for Students Confident in Reading, and 15.0% (R 2  = 0.150) for Students Like Reading. If we remove the effects of the controlling variables, the contribution of teacher quality and instructional quality becomes 1.7% for Reading Achievement, 2.6% for Students Confident in Reading, and 7.3% for Students Like Reading.

The correlations of errors of Reading Achievement, Students Confident in Reading and Students Like Reading were almost the same in Sweden as in the other countries. The highest correlation (0.37) was again between Reading Achievement and Students Confident in Reading. The correlation of errors of Working Atmosphere in the Classroom and Teacher Support Perceived by Students was 0.19 in Sweden. In addition, Teacher’s Specialization and Participating in Professional Development had a correlation of 0.20. These two variables were thus almost similarly correlated in all Nordic countries except in Denmark.

Discussion of findings

In this study, we used the PIRLS 2016 data in conducting path analyses that explored the relations of two subdimensions of teacher quality (formal qualification and professional identity), along with three subdimensions of instructional quality (classroom management, cognitive activation and teacher support) and student outcomes in four Nordic countries. First, we were interested in the relations of teachers’ formal qualifications and professional identity as well as direct associations of formal qualifications with instructional quality and student outcomes.

Of the original three variables measuring formal qualifications, Teacher’s Specialization had a significant positive association with Teacher’s Self-Efficacy, which, in turn, was the only remaining measure of professional identity in the final models. This association was weak, but it was observed in all of the countries we considered. In addition, Participating in Professional Development was associated with Teacher’s Self-Efficacy in Finland. Teacher’s Specialization and Participating in Professional Development were intercorrelated in all the other countries except for in Denmark, suggesting that those who had specialized in reading issues in their formal education tend to participate more in reading-related professional development activities. Formal qualifications had no associations with student outcomes in any of the countries.

In our analysis, teachers’ Formal Education had no statistically significant associations with student outcomes or teacher-related variables. It was not therefore retained in the final path model for any country. This finding contradicts some earlier studies (e.g., Blömeke et al., 2016 ; Nilsen et al., 2018 ). One possible explanation is that the educational level of teachers in Nordic countries is uniform and relatively high. As noted in the Introduction, most of the participating teachers had at least a bachelor’s degree. From the viewpoint of statistical modelling, a variable with little variation appears insignificant even though the issue itself may be important.

Another possible explanation is that the original teacher training may not contain enough material specific to teaching reading, regardless of the formal degree. Due to the wide range of content a primary school teacher has to study, there are differences in how much teaching reading is included in the compulsory studies of teacher training, even within a single country. According to our analysis, Teacher’s Specialization in teaching reading plays a more important role than the level of Formal Education does in regards to a teacher’s professional identity and, further, to instructional quality and student outcomes.

As noted, the frequency of participating in reading-related professional development was lowest in Finland and less than 50% in Denmark. This means there is considerable heterogeneity for the variable among teachers in Denmark and Finland, which can be the reason why it emerges in models of these countries. This suggests that reading-related professional development, just like specialization in reading in formal education, is important for teachers to teach reading efficiently, and teachers should be encouraged to participate in such training. Overall, the issue of professional development is important for teacher quality in Nordic countries. According to Taajamo ( 2016 ), in-service training in the Nordic countries seems fragmented because there are many different organizations offering it. His study, based on TALIS 2013 data, showed that, in the Nordic countries, teachers spent minimal time on professional development activities even though they find the activities beneficial. Fuglestad et al. ( 2017 ), however, have also observed increased participation in professional development among Norwegian teachers.

The second research question focused on professional identity. The only variable, which measured professional identity and remained in the final model, was Teacher’s Self-Efficacy, and it had a positive effect on Working Atmosphere in the Classroom in all the countries and also on Teacher Support Perceived by Students in Denmark and Sweden. Nilsen et al., ( 2018 ) found an association between self-efficacy regarding pedagogical content knowledge and instructional quality in science teaching. They also found associations with science-related student outcomes, but in our study direct associations with student outcomes were not evident. Job Satisfaction showed no significant associations, which differs from the findings of Banerjee et al. ( 2017 ), who found modest but positive relations regarding job satisfaction and reading achievement. Moreover, Teacher Collaboration showed no significant relations in this study, which raises the question of differences in collaboration on teaching reading and science (cf. Nilsen et al., 2018 ). According to Nilsen et al. ( 2018 ), effective teacher collaboration should include professional development embedded within school and classroom practices, clearly defined learning goals, and structures and processes that support teaching innovations.

Finally, the third research question focused on instructional quality and its relations. The analysis started with several variables related to instructional quality, but only a couple of them showed associations which could be considered significant. Teacher Support Perceived by Students was the only relevant variable measuring teacher support. It had a rather strong positive relation with Students Like Reading and a weak but positive relation with Students Confident in Reading in all four Nordic countries. Similarly, Working Atmosphere in the Classroom was the only relevant variable measuring classroom management. It had a positive association with Reading Achievement and Students Confident in Reading in all four countries and, additionally, a positive relation to Students Like Reading in Finland and Norway. So even though variables of instructional quality had few connections to Reading Achievement, they seem to be important for affective-motivational student outcomes, which then correlate to achievement. However, cognitive activation, such as a teacher reading aloud to students, had no significant associations with student outcomes in our study.

In general, the associations of student outcomes with teacher quality and instructional quality, as measured above, did not appear particularly strong. This suggests that, at least in the Nordic countries, the variation in students’ reading results cannot be straightforwardly reduced to differences in teaching. Teachers and instruction of high quality do not necessarily manifest in high student achievements. The explained variance was the largest for Students Like Reading, especially through Teacher Support Perceived by Students, and the smallest for Reading Achievement.

Limitations and future research

Due to the cross-sectional nature of data, true causal effects cannot be detected. In addition, despite the large number of considered variables, there may always exist variables which are not measured and which may intervene in the observed relations. In this data, the number of teachers was small even though the school samples were nationally representative. The coefficients of determination (R-squared) of the outcomes were generally small. One reason for this is that in several considered variables there was little national variation between teachers. On the other hand, if there was remarkable between-teacher variation, it did not necessarily coincide with the variation in student outcomes. Among the variables we were originally interested in, there were many which lacked significant associations with the outcomes, or which gave inconsistent results due to intercorrelations with other explanatory variables. This led to the dropping of several variables from the final analyses. One of those was the collaboration of the teachers, which showed no significance here. Ronfeldt et al. ( 2015 ) have noted that teacher collaboration can vary a lot within schools and this within-school variation is larger than the variation between schools.

These analyses were done country by country. The aim was not to compare the statistical differences between countries, but rather to learn which kind of associations appear in the four Nordic countries. This clarifies the focus of this article but also leaves some questions. For example, the level of education did not show any significance in the models. Teacher’s educational level, however, is clearly highest in Finland while the level of reading-related professional development is the lowest. It would be interesting to complement these results with a study of the content and quality of formal teacher education and reading specialization studies in Nordic countries.

In the large-scale assessments, the questionnaires are usually targeted to cover many areas, and consequently there is no room to focus very deeply on the phenomenon in question (see also Nilsen et al., 2016 ). An example of this kind of shortcoming is measuring self-efficacy, which was based on six items only and did not include items on efficacy in disciplinary matters or any variables related to school operations and work organization (cf. Bandura, 1997 ; Friedman & Kass, 2002 ). Our hypothesis is that these issues might also correlate to job satisfaction and classroom management because the atmosphere at the school usually transfers to the classroom. This should be considered in future research.

The data in this study were largely based on teachers’ self-reported responses to questions in the PIRLS teacher questionnaire. Similarly to Van Staden et al. ( 2019 ) as well as Shiel and Eivers ( 2009 ), we found that the PIRLS teacher questionnaire data show little that is new about the instructional quality of the teachers. As they have suspected, one reason may be that teachers reported the frequency of their activities too positively or too much in line with social expectations (e.g., what is expected in the curriculum) rather than reporting the reality of what they do. In addition, some of the teachers’ actions, such as support given to students, may vary individually, but the questionnaire captures only the teacher’s average estimation for the whole class. Even though student-specific questionnaires are laborious for teachers, they would give more precise information about the adaptation and differences of teaching for each student in the class. In such a study, a student’s participation in special education should also be included in the analysis.

Finally, we note that the focus of this study was only on reading and reading-related outcomes. As Emler et al. ( 2019 ) point out, teachers work with a wide range of outcomes, such as creativity, problem-solving, organization of knowledge, self-monitoring skills, and entrepreneurship. Unlike in China (see Zhao, 2014 ), for example, in the Nordic countries the curriculum and study content are not guided by participation in large-scale assessments. Therefore, teachers’ work includes a lot that has not been measured in PIRLS or other large-scale assessments.

In this study, the four Nordic countries appear, despite small differences, very similar when looking at the relationship between teacher quality, professional identity, instructional quality and student outcomes. Our findings emphasize three factors that should be addressed in teacher training and among in-service teachers. First, Teacher’s Self-Efficacy had positive associations with certain variables measuring instructional quality. Every teacher should have the right to participate in professional development in order to gain additional expertise in content about which they feel uncertain. A student’s reading skills are the basis for all learning and therefore this issue is especially important.

Second, the most significant variables of instructional quality were Work Atmosphere in the Class and Teacher Support Perceived by Students measured by the students’ view. Students have the right to a safe, peaceful, and encouraging learning atmosphere. The emergence of issues related to classroom management implies that this right is not exercised for all students. For one reason or another, teachers are unable to organize class activities so that there is a peaceful working atmosphere for everyone.

Third, teachers’ work is not limited only to test scores and achievements, meaning it is important to measure a range of outcomes. Even though students’ skills at some levels may be deficient, the teacher can have a significant influence on students’ attitudes and interest, which feed students’ activities and can later be reflected in improved grades. This is especially important because students’ interest in reading has declined in many countries, and according to the PIRLS 2016 survey (Mullis et al., 2017 , Student Engagement and Attitudes section), the Nordic countries were at the very bottom when looking at the percentage of students who like reading. A supportive environment provided by the teacher can be crucial in increasing students’ reading motivation and enjoyment.

This study emphasizes that teacher training and professional development activities should, on one hand, focus on subject-targeted pedagogical issues, such as teaching reading but, on the other hand, also on general pedagogy, such as classroom management and supporting students’ learning through, for example, feedback. This study suggests that teachers need more knowledge and tools for these areas to achieve more equal education for students. The research shows that teaching and especially teachers’ actions are important. More attention should be paid to the areas identified here than is presently the case, because they can support both skills and attitudes towards reading.

Availability of data and materials

The dataset supporting the conclusions of this article is available in the PIRLS repository .

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Correlation matrices of final analysis for all four countries.

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What does recent research say about teacher quality and student achievement?

Thank you for the question you submitted to our REL Reference Desk regarding teacher quality and student achievement. We have prepared the following memo with research references to help answer your question. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. The references are selected from the most commonly used research resources and may not be comprehensive. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. Other relevant studies may exist. We have not evaluated the quality of these references, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

  • Adnot, M., Dee, T., Katz, V., & Wyckoff, J. (2017). Teacher turnover, teacher quality, and student achievement in DCPS. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 39 (1), 54-76. Retrieved from From the abstract : “In practice, teacher turnover appears to have negative effects on school quality as measured by student performance. However, some simulations suggest that turnover can instead have large positive effects under a policy regime in which low-performing teachers can be accurately identified and replaced with more effective teachers. This study examines this question by evaluating the effects of teacher turnover on student achievement under IMPACT, the unique performance-assessment and incentive system in the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). Employing a quasi-experimental design based on data from the first years of IMPACT, we find that, on average, DCPS replaced teachers who left with teachers who increased student achievement by 0.08 standard deviation (SD) in math. When we isolate the effects of lower-performing teachers who were induced to leave DCPS for poor performance, we find that student achievement improves by larger and statistically significant amounts (i.e., 0.14 SD in reading and 0.21 SD in math). In contrast, the effect of exits by teachers not sanctioned under IMPACT is typically negative but not statistically significant.”
  • Akram, M. (2019). Relationship between students’ perceptions of teacher effectiveness and student achievement at secondary school level. Bulletin of Education and Research, 41 (2), 93-108. Retrieved from: From the abstract: “Teacher effectiveness is a process of measuring teaching quality based on quality indicators. High quality teachers are required to demonstrate frequent performance on quality indicators. The purpose of this study was to measure the relationship between teacher effectiveness score and student achievement at secondary school level. Using the multistage sampling technique, 40 high schools (20 male and 20 female) were selected as strata. Later, all 2000 students of grade 9 of these 40 schools in District Okara were sampled. A School Teacher Effectiveness Questionnaire (STEQ) Developed and validated by Akram (2018) was adopted for this study to measure teacher effectiveness. The STEQ was found to be highly reliable (a=.88). Student achievement scores in English and Mathematics of these students were also collected from respective schools. Pearson correlation was used to measure the relationship between teacher effectiveness and student achievement. The study found moderate positive significant relationship between teacher effectiveness score and student achievement. Learning environment demonstrated highest relationship with student achievement in English and Mathematics, followed by effective communication. Multiple regression analysis revealed that 32 percent of variance in student achievement in English and 12 percent of variance in student achievement in Mathematics was explained by teacher effectiveness scores. Further, male and female students did not significantly differ on their perceptions of their teachers' effectiveness. The study provides evidence of validity and reliability of STEQ leading the idea that secondary school students can validly measure teacher effectiveness scores. Limitation includes private tuition that can contribute to student achievement. The study implied that student ratings can be used as a supplement data source of measuring teacher quality.”
  • Bitler, M. P., Corcoran, S. P., Domina, T., Penner, E. K. (2014). Teacher effects on student achievement and height: A cautionary tale. Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness . Retrieved from: From the abstract: “The growing availability of data linking students to classroom teachers has made it possible to estimate the contribution teachers make to student achievement. While there is a growing consensus that teacher quality is important and current evaluation systems are inadequate, many have expressed concerns over the use of value-added measures (VAMs) in high-stakes personnel decisions. We conduct a new test of the validity of teacher value-added models. We apply traditionally estimated VAM models to an outcome that teachers cannot plausibly have a causal effect on: student height. Any estimated "effect" of teachers on height should raise questions about the extent to which VAMs cleanly distinguish between effective and ineffective teachers. We also examine two potential interpretations for effects of teachers on height. The first is that these effects reflect bias, sorting to teachers on the basis of unobserved factors related to height (that may or may not be related to achievement). The second is that these effects reflect measurement error or other forms of random "noise." Both have implications for the use of VAMs in practice. The findings raise important questions about the extent to which VAMs cleanly distinguish between effective and ineffective teachers. This is especially important when personnel and compensation decisions are tied to individual VAM estimates.”
  • Gershenson, S. (2016). Linking teacher quality, student attendance, and student achievement. Education Finance and Policy, 11 (2), 125-149. Retrieved from: Full text available at From the abstract: “Research on the effectiveness of educational inputs, particularly research on teacher effectiveness, typically overlooks teachers' potential impact on behavioral outcomes, such as student attendance. Using longitudinal data on teachers and students in North Carolina I estimate teacher effects on primary school student absences in a value-added framework. The analysis yields two main findings: First, teachers have arguably causal, statistically significant effects on student absences that persist over time. Second, teachers who improve test scores do not necessarily improve student attendance, suggesting that effective teaching is multidimensional and teachers who are effective in one domain are not necessarily effective in others.”
  • Gilmour, A. F. & Henry, G. T. (2018). A comparison of teacher quality in math for late elementary and middle school students with and without disabilities. Elementary School Journal, 118 (3), 426-451. Retrieved from: Full text available at From the abstract: “Students with disabilities (SWDs) perform below their peers in math on national and state assessments. The quality of teachers who provide these students with math instruction is an unexamined variable that could influence this low achievement. We used data from more than 1 million students to compare the quality of teachers assigned to teach math to fourth- through eighth-grade SWDs and students without disabilities, using multiple indicators of teacher quality. Overall, SWDs had access to teachers of similar quality as their peers, but grouping all disabilities masked heterogeneity. Students with learning disabilities were only 2 to 8 percentage points more likely than their peers to have teachers with special education certification. Based on our findings, the low math achievement of SWDs is unlikely to be the result of limited access to the same teacher quality as their peers without disabilities.”
  • Hochweber, J. & Vieluf, S. (2018). Gender differences in reading achievement and enjoyment of reading: The role of perceived teaching quality. Journal of Educational Research, 111 (3), 268-283. Retrieved from: Full text available at From the abstract: “The authors examined the extent to which classroom-specific relationships between students' gender and their reading achievement and enjoyment of reading are associated with student-perceived teaching quality. Based on a sample of 10,543 ninth-grade students from 427 classrooms, multilevel analyses revealed that effective classroom management, adequate pacing, and a strong focus on language competencies were related to a less pronounced increase of girls' advantage in reading achievement during Grade 9. High levels of teacher support and focus on language competencies were related to smaller gender differences in enjoyment of reading at the beginning of Grade 9, though not associated with change of these differences over the school year. Our findings suggest that high teaching quality is not only related to higher reading achievement and reading enjoyment in classrooms as a whole, but may also help to mitigate the increase of gender gaps in reading achievement and motivation commonly observed in secondary school.”
  • Holzberger, D., Praetorius, A., Seidel, T., & Kunter, M. (2019). Identifying effective teachers: The relation between teaching profiles and students’ development in achievement and enjoyment. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 34 (4), 801- 823. Retrieved from: Full text available at From the abstract: “Teaching effectiveness has often been described from a variable-centered perspective according to instructional, organizational, and emotional teaching characteristics and their prediction of students' outcomes. Adopting a person-centered approach, the present study analyzed how multiple variables of teaching quality co-occur simultaneously within teachers and how these teaching profiles are related to students' development in achievement and enjoyment. Data from 3483 secondary students and their 155 mathematics teachers were analyzed at two measurement points. A latent profile analysis identified high-, medium-, and low-quality teaching profiles. Multilevel analyses revealed that the high-quality profile--as compared to the medium-quality profile--was positively related to achievement gains, whereas no significant difference was found for students' development in enjoyment. The findings reveal quantitative instead of qualitative teaching profiles and challenge the implicit assumption the higher the better. In particular, effective teachers may not need to display the highest levels in all teaching aspects. Instead, different thresholds for teaching effectiveness may apply for students' achievement gains and emotional development, respectively.”
  • Kraft, M. A., Blazar, D., & Hogan, D. (2018). The effect of teacher coaching on instruction and achievement: A meta-analysis of the causal evidence. Review of Educational Research, 88 (4), 547-588. Retrieved from: Full text available at From the abstract: “Teacher coaching has emerged as a promising alternative to traditional models of professional development. We review the empirical literature on teacher coaching and conduct meta-analyses to estimate the mean effect of coaching programs on teachers' instructional practice and students' academic achievement. Combining results across 60 studies that employ causal research designs, we find pooled effect sizes of 0.49 standard deviations (SD) on instruction and 0.18 SD on achievement. Much of this evidence comes from literacy coaching programs for prekindergarten and elementary school teachers in the United States. Although these findings affirm the potential of coaching as a development tool, further analyses illustrate the challenges of taking coaching programs to scale while maintaining effectiveness. Average effects from effectiveness trials of larger programs are only a fraction of the effects found in efficacy trials of smaller programs. We conclude by discussing ways to address scale-up implementation challenges and providing guidance for future causal studies.”
  • Lee, S. W. (2018). Pulling back the curtain: Revealing the cumulative importance of high-performing, highly qualified teachers on students’ educational outcomes. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 40 (3), 359-381. Retrieved from: Full text available at From the abstract: “This study examines the relationship between two dominant measures of teacher quality, teacher qualification and teacher effectiveness (measured by value-added modeling), in terms of their influence on students' short-term academic growth and long-term educational success (measured by bachelor's degree attainment). As students are exposed to teachers of varying quality over the course of their schooling, this study computes cumulative teacher quality indices that are able to more precisely estimate the impact of teacher quality. Notably, this study found that students who had been taught by a succession of high-performing and qualified teachers tend to have a positive relationship with students' short- and long-term educational success.”
  • Lekwa, A. J., Reddy, L. A., Dudek, C. M., & Hua, A. N. (2019). Assessment of teaching to predict gains in student achievement in urban schools. School Psychology, 34 (3), 271- 280. Retrieved from: Full text available at From the abstract: “We examined the degree to which assessment of teachers' instructional and behavior management practices, as measured by the Classroom Strategies Assessment System (CSAS; Reddy & Dudek, 2014), relates to gains in student achievement as measured by the Measures of Academic Progress (Northwest Evaluation Association [NWEA], 2011). Two-level hierarchical linear modeling was applied to achievement scores from 2,771 students in 130 kindergarten through 8th-grade classrooms in 13 urban schools serving students in communities with high concentrations of poverty. Results suggest that teachers' use of evidence-based instructional and behavior management strategies, as measured by the CSAS, were associated with reading and mathematics gains. In general, students in classrooms with higher quality use of evidence-based teaching strategies exhibited greater gains, whereas students in classrooms with lower quality use of effective strategies exhibited lesser gains. Implications of these findings for research and educational practice are presented.”
  • Maruli, S. (2014). Quality in teaching: A review of literature. International Journal of Education and Research, 2 (12), 193-200. Retrieved from: From the abstract: “Drawing on literature since 2000, this review explores the definition of quality teaching, the two components of quality teaching, and the characteristics of the elements of these components. There were no consensus on the definition of quality teaching. However, leading scholars have similar views on the quality teaching components, i.e. good teaching and successful teaching. Good teaching related to the effectiveness of teaching behaviors thus it becomes foundation for development of expert teacher, while successful teaching was marked by the achievement of students. The third explores the interface between two components of quality teaching – student engagement in academic. There appears, however, different of quality teaching standards in every context. Thus, this literature review suggests directions for future research.”
  • Ohle, A., Boone, W. J., & Fischer, H. E. (2015). Investigating the impact of teachers’ physics CK on students’ outcomes. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 13 (6), 1211-1233. Retrieved from: Full text available at From the abstract: “Decreasing student interest and achievement during the transition from elementary to secondary school is an international problem, especially in science education. The question of what factors influence this decline has been a widely discussed topic. This study focuses on investigating the relationship of elementary school teachers' content knowledge (CK) in physics upon the student outcomes of interest and achievement. Data were collected from K-4 elementary school teachers (N = 58) and their students (N = 1,326). Besides questionnaire surveys of teachers and students, one science lesson on the topic "states of matter and phase transitions" of each classroom was videotaped for assessing teaching quality. Analyses from a triangulation of data could not identify an impact of teachers' CK upon students' interest. However, the sequencing of learning processes within a lesson was found to be a positive predictor for students' achievement, although only minimal time was spent on reflective phases during the lessons.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

  • Center for Teaching Quality: From the website : “For 20 years, CTQ has led efforts to improve public education, drawing from the expertise and insights of experienced educators. We have worked with thousands of teachers, administrators, and system leaders nationwide, listening to and learning from their experiences, then collaborating with them to create solutions to make public schools better. We help teachers grow as leaders. We partner with administrators and district officials to reimagine how schools work. We bring together teams at all levels to find solutions to improve public schools.”
  • Leading Educators: From the website : “Leading Educators strives to make that vision a reality by investing in the single greatest determinant of student success - teachers. We partner with school districts around the country to strengthen teachers’ content knowledge and pedagogical skills through exceptional, school-based professional learning, ultimately improving the quality of teaching and learning in every classroom. Together with leaders at every level of a school system, we create relevant, school-based professional learning structures and supports that empower networks of teacher leaders to improve the quality of teaching and learning in their schools and better equip students to thrive in college, career, and life. Our approach helps school and district leaders make equity-informed shifts that counteract systemic bias and ensure affirming, challenging learning experiences for every child.”
  • National Council on Teacher Quality: From the website : “NCTQ researches, evaluates, and provides information and guidance. We propose new changes to restore the teaching profession to strong health so we can provide every child with the education needed to ensure a bright and successful future and to offer all teachers—from aspiring to veteran—the conditions needed to thrive and succeed.”

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  • 1 Universidad San Jorge, Spain

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It is out of doubt that little attention is paid to the emotional competences of secondary school counselors in research activity, as well as in their initial and ongoing training. It seems that emotional well-being is still a pending issue that may even generate some controversy, even though, today, it is defined as a clear strategy in mental health plans. Undoubtedly, we are facing a content that facilitates the contrast of points of view and social commitment as an inherent part of the democratic process. Therefore, it was decided to carry out a study, of enormous relevance, with the purpose of knowing the perceptions of secondary school counselors within the Autonomous Community of Galicia regarding emotional competences for an ideal counseling practice in complex times and moments with great challenges in the field of educational equity. Specifically, an evaluation study was carried out on the level of training received by school counselors in emotional competences and thus be able to have a diagnosis, identifying possible strengths and weaknesses. A study with a quantitative based methodology which uses the questionnaire for data collection as a main research technique. The findings obtained suggest that the quality of the teaching and learning processes in secondary schools would be substantially improved if the emotional competence profile of the counselors was considered. In particular, the interest that emotional competences arouse in counselors is confirmed, at the same time, they recognize that they can help them properly to manage the relationship processes and, the personal balance. This research, one of the first carried out in Galicia on emotional competences in secondary school counselors, provides empirical data of great interest for future training plans that are more in line with social and professional expectations, since it provides an x-ray unique, revealing, valid and real statement of the state of the matter.

Keywords: Guidance, training, emotional competence, Secondary education, Well-being

Received: 15 Aug 2023; Accepted: 05 Dec 2023.

Copyright: © 2023 Varela Tembra. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Mx. Juan José Varela Tembra, Universidad San Jorge, Zaragoza, Spain

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Across the country, preschool teachers strive to engage young learners and help them develop the physical, emotional, social, and academic skills they need. It’s a hard job, but good coaching can make it easier by helping teachers develop new skills and build on those they already have.

So, over the past year, researchers at SRI’s Education Division have been working with partners at Substantial and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to improve instructional coaching for preschool teachers. Their goal: to ensure that all children receive a high-quality education at this critical point in their lives.

“Coaches use observational tools to assess teacher performance and provide feedback. For these tools to work as intended, they must be able to accurately measure the aspects of teaching that support the growth of all students,” said Todd Grindal , co-director for SRI Education’s Center for Learning & Development and former preschool teacher. “We need to be measuring the right things and doing so in a sufficiently rigorous way to help teachers get from where they are to where we know they need to be to support kids’ development.”

But most existing observational tools fall short of what’s needed, he said. They aren’t yet able to fully capture culturally responsive practices that improve outcomes for minority students or address biases. Assessments can also come across as adversarial instead of collaborative, focusing on what a teacher has done wrong instead of how they can grow and improve in the future. And in many cases, tools are too cumbersome to implement easily with the limited time available to both coaches and teachers, leading to assessments that are too infrequent to be productive.

“Teachers need to be getting more frequent, bite-sized pieces of feedback that feel doable and actionable, instead of a thick report that just feels overwhelming,” said Sarah Gerard , an education researcher at SRI and former pre-K teacher.

With input from early childhood educators, families, and subject matter experts, the SRI team put together a document that outlines criteria for evaluating existing observational tools and designing new ones. It covers the content that a tool should measure, reliability and validity of those measurements, the user experience, the ability to deliver productive feedback, and whether the tool is convenient and affordable to use in a variety of types of classrooms. They shared their work in a recent webinar organized by the Gates Foundation discussing what high quality instructional coaching should look like.

“We really looked at the whole ecosystem, including thinking about the different implicit or explicit ways that discrimination or racism can show up in some of these instructional practices,” said Krystal Thomas , a senior education researcher at SRI.

SRI’s work in this area emphasizes the importance of having instructional tools that can be used equitably and are unbiased across diverse classrooms. Preschool classrooms serve children from a wide variety of racial and ethnic identities, incomes, and geographic areas, and many children speak languages other than English or speak multiple languages. These cultural backgrounds influence how children demonstrate interests, imitate others, and engage in play; coaching should help teachers recognize and support the needs of those students.

Similarly, observational tools and coaching should be designed to support teachers from diverse, multilingual, and multi-racial backgrounds, the researchers said. If a preschool class is taught in a different language, or multiple languages, coaches need to be able to fully understand that context and the tools should be flexible enough to be effective.

“In this important rethinking of what these tools are going to do, equity is the first thing we consider,” Grindal said. “Our hope is that as this work progresses—both our work with the Gates Foundation and our work with other partners—that SRI can be part of this movement to center equity in teaching.”

The researchers are also looking into ways to use various technologies to make coaching more effective and efficient for everyone involved. With support from the Gates Foundation, they are conducting a study to determine if a coach observing a video of a class can get the same information as they would in person.

They are also investigating the possibility of developing specific technologies to assist coaches in analyzing classroom videos. With help from SRI’s Center for Vision Technologies and the Speech Technology and Research Laboratory , they may be able to create tools that can save time by highlighting key elements of classroom practice automatically, allowing coaches to conduct more observations.

“We hope to make instructional coaching easier, cost-effective, and more efficient,” Gerard said. “The real goal here is to have more teachers that are able to get instructional coaching, which then leads to more children being able to have an equitable, high-quality early learning classroom.”

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