Does Improved Teacher Quality Lead to Improved Student Learning?

By Barbara Miner

Illustrator: Barbara Miner

Photo: Barbara Miner

Such a question is inherently tricky, in part because measures of student learning are multi-faceted and embrace not only academic questions but matters of social development and civic awareness.

Union and district officials say that, based on at least one narrow gauge, student proficiency tests, Cincinnati’s teacher evaluation system appears to correlate with improved teaching. A 2002 study found that teachers who rated highest under Cincinnati’s evaluation also showed the greatest gains on average in students’ proficiency tests. Conversely, teachers with low ratings showed the fewest gains on their students’ scores. The district looked at individual students’ scores on proficiency tests in 2000 and 2001, comparing student improvement to the teachers’ evaluation ratings.

The report was based on grades 3 through 8. High school proficiency tests were not measured because they may be taken multiple times over several grades, making comparisons difficult.

More recent data show that in the higher grades Cincinnati is outperforming districts with similar demographic, socioeconomic, and geographic factors in higher grades.

Information from the 2004-05 Ohio Report Cards shows that even though Cincinnati underperformed similar districts in third and fourth grade, by fifth grade its students had caught up and in subsequent years they outperformed students in similar districts.

On Ohio’s eighth-grade achievement and 10th-grade graduation test in 2004-05, Cincinnati scored well above similar districts in the five areas tested — reading, writing, math, science, and social studies. In addition, its 2003-04 graduation rate of 72.1 percent was significantly higher than the 64.2 percent rate for similar districts.