Instruction and student achievement: a missing relationship

steveriot1, Pixabay.com, CC0 1.0
steveriot1, Pixabay.com, CC0 1.0

Consistently, research suggests that the instruction students receive is the most important school-related factor for student achievement. This means that teachers are key actors in student achievement. After all, it is the teachers who spend the most time with the students during the school day; it is the teachers who will actually deliver the instruction to the students. It therefore seems natural that teachers also account for variations in achievement between different groups of students.

In an effort to gain a better understanding of the relationship between instruction and student achievement, I began a study (forthcoming) using the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) database as part of the National Academy of Education’s Measure of Effective Teaching Early Career Grants Program. In particular, I am interested in how instruction may help explain racial achievement gaps as well as what can be done to reduce those gaps.

Past research finds that the effectiveness of teaching varies by student race. Knowing more about how the relationship between instruction and achievement varies by student race can help us to figure out how to ensure instruction can be more effective for all students. If we know more about the relationship between instruction and achievement, then we can use this information to create high-quality professional development.

The MET data is the first large-scale data set of instructional data in the United States. It includes roughly 3,000 teachers from about 300 schools. The measures of instruction are derived from thousands of hours of video data on math and/or English language arts instruction. For this study, I am focusing on 4thand 5thgrade math instruction.

I find that there are racial differences in math achievement, with black and Hispanic students scoring lower than white students. I also find that minority students tend to be in classrooms where teachers are rated as having lower quality math instruction. However, for the most part there are not significant relationships between instruction and student achievement despite taking into account race, socioeconomic status, gender, and prior achievement.

“By being able to measure instruction effectively we can learn more about what teachers are and are not doing in the classroom and how it influences their students’ achievement.”

It is unclear as to why I am not finding the relationship between instruction and achievement that I would expect or that past research would predict. Prior research finds that instruction is related to student achievement. Perhaps, my lack of significant findings is related to the measure not fully capturing the variation in instruction. The measure used in the study only indicated if a particular instructional component was present, partially present, or missing. Instruction is complex so perhaps short observations of instruction with limited categorizations of instructional quality is not enough to capture the full extent of the intricacy of instruction.

If research wants to help improve learning outcomes for all students and reduce the achievement gap, it is important that we have a measure of instruction that captures teaching effectively within the classroom. By being able to measure instruction effectively we can learn more about what teachers are and are not doing in the classroom and how it influences their students’ achievement. Only then can we provide better professional development for our teachers to help them improve the skills needed to foster their students’ learning.

Weekly newsletter