Better Data May Equal Better Prepared Teachers

Jenny DeMonte

There is more opportunity than ever before to use and analyze data about students, teachers, and school systems. Much of these data come from what the K–12 school system has collected about student learning, demographics, teacher quality, working conditions, teacher turnover, and more. Report cards and dashboards with district and schoolwide data can illustrate for parents, policymakers, and taxpayers the current state of education, from test scores to district finance.

But, for the most part, teacher preparation providers and researchers often struggle to access data from the schools where teacher candidates do their clinical training (i.e., student teaching) and where graduates are hired. Despite the expanding collection of data about education, these data are often hard to link to programs where teachers are trained.

Read the report from the April 2017 meeting, Fostering a New Approach to Research on Teacher Preparation, and the report from the October 2017 convening, New Collaborations, New Approaches: Research for Improvement in Teacher Preparation.

Data sharing was a major topic of conversation at an October 2017 meeting of more than three dozen researchers, teacher educators, K–12 school leaders, and other stakeholders at the offices of the American Institutes for Research (AIR) in Washington, DC. The group gathered to share research designs that could lead to improvement in teacher preparation (read the full report). Nearly all the studies grappled with the challenge of how to pair school and state data about teachers with the colleges and other programs that educate the next generation of teachers.

The lack of easy data sharing between K–12 systems and teacher preparation may be costly, in terms of the quality of instruction by new teachers. Without knowing how graduates perform in the first years in the profession, preparation providers are hard-pressed to know how to improve their programs. If providers cannot determine how to continuously improve the experiences and activities of teacher candidates, the graduates are likely to perform similarly year after year. Those most affected by this quandary are educators and students. School leaders may end up hiring new teachers without knowing how they were prepared to teach. Students may be assigned to teachers whose preparation could have been stronger.

To address this issue, some states are actively sharing data with teacher preparation providers. Rhode Island, for example, provides data to school districts and preparation providers, and as a result, leaders in one district noticed that they were hiring a higher proportion of new teachers from a specific provider. They used this information to form a stronger partnership with the provider and to strengthen the agreement about student teaching.

Tennessee creates annual report cards about teacher preparation providers in the state. These report cards include metrics such as licensure pass rates, retention data, and principal observations of new teachers. State education officials meet regularly with preparation providers to determine whether the data are useful to teacher educators who are working to continually improve programs.

Researchers have also benefited from data sharing in Tennessee. For example, one team of researchers conducted a study of student teachers in a university-based preparation program. The team used state-level data about schools and teachers to identify student placements that were predicted to be high- or low-index. High-index placements were in schools with higher average teacher observation scores and levels of retention, and with teachers who have high evaluation scores and more teaching experience. Teacher candidates were surveyed about their placements after completing their clinical training.

Jenny DeMonte specializes in teacher preparation and licensure. She has worked on research and policy issues related to teacher quality and school improvement for more than two decades, first as a journalist and now as an AIR researcher.