The Full Measure of a Teacher

By C. Kirabo Jackson for educationnext.org

When students look back on their most important teachers, the social aspects of their education are often what they recall. Learning to set goals, take risks and responsibility, or simply believe in oneself are often fodder for fond thanks—alongside mastering pre-calculus, becoming a critical reader, or remembering the capital of Turkmenistan.

It’s a dynamic mix, one that captures the broad charge of a teacher: to teach students the skills they’ll need to be productive adults. But what, exactly, are these skills? And how can we determine which teachers are most effective in building them?

Test scores are often the best available measure of student progress, but they do not capture every skill needed in adulthood. A growing research base shows that non-cognitive (or socio-emotional) skills like adaptability, motivation, and self-restraint are key determinants of adult outcomes. Therefore, if we want to identify good teachers, we ought to look at how teachers affect their students’ development across a range of skills—both academic and non-cognitive.

A robust data set on 9th-grade students in North Carolina allows me to do just that. First, I create a measure of non-cognitive skills based on students’ behavior in high school, such as suspensions and on-time grade progression. I then calculate effectiveness ratings based on teachers’ impacts on both test scores and non-cognitive skills and look for connections between the two. Finally, I explore the extent to which measuring teacher impacts on behavior allows us to better identify those truly excellent educators who have long-lasting effects on their students.

Read more here.

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