Early ed teachers add to later success

MICHIGAN STATE (US) — Starting as early as kindergarten, quality teachers are as important as small class size, significantly affecting students’ math and reading scores in later grades.

The study, published in the journal, Teachers College Record, highlights the importance of identifying and hiring effective teachers in the early grades and implementing interventions such as professional development to improve teacher effectiveness.

“The findings suggest teacher effects do not fade, but remain strong predictors of student achievement,” says Spyros Konstantopoulos, associate professor of education at Michigan State University.

“Of course we should have the best teachers we can in all grades,” he says. “But if you have to prioritize resources, perhaps the earlier school years make the most sense because this is where students receive most of the basic skills for reading and math.”

The study analyzed reading and math scores on standardized tests for several thousand students in kindergarten through third grade involved in the landmark Student Teacher Achievement Ratio study, known as Project STAR, in Tennessee.

The research shows that teachers in all four grades can have a significant effect on student achievement, independent of the other teachers, meaning for example, that a kindergarten teacher can have significant, measurable effect on a third-grader’s math and reading scores.

Project STAR is the first major study of the effects of class size on student learning. Konstantopoulos was surprised to discover that teacher effects over time appear to be as important for student achievement as the cumulative effects of small class sizes.

The teacher effects were more pronounced in reading than in math. This makes sense, Konstantopoulos says, because “teachers in kindergarten and even first grade typically see their role as that of a reading teacher, not necessarily a mathematics teacher.”

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