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Study finds better teachers have wide-ranging impact

January 11, 2012

Teachers who raise test scores also have a positive impact in other areas of their students’ lives, according to a new study from economists at Harvard University. The study has not been peer reviewed, but it seems to indicate that there is a value in rating teachers based on how their students perform on standardized tests, a method known as “value added” or VA.

According to the study:

Students assigned to high-VA teachers are more likely to attend college, attend higher- ranked colleges, earn higher salaries, live in higher SES neighborhoods, and save more for retirement. They are also less likely to have children as teenagers.

The researchers were trying to determine whether “value added” is a good measure of teacher quality. To do this, they looked at test score data for more than 2 million children in a single school district in grades 3-8. Then they used tax records to find out what happened to those children later in life.

They concluded that:

On average, a one standard deviation improvement in teacher VA in a single grade raises earnings by about 1% at age 28. Replacing a teacher whose VA is in the bottom 5% with an average teacher would increase students’ lifetime income by more than $250,000 for the average classroom in our sample.

“Value added” teacher ratings are extremely controversial, with critics arguing that a single teacher is rarely the only factor driving student performance. The New York Times notes that some critics also warn such systems could influence teacher behavior, driving them to cheat, for example, or to remove weaker students from their classrooms

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