Research in brief

Here we summarize interesting and impactful research from the news or from recent state data analyses, highlighting key findings and implications. Have a study you think we should feature? Send us your suggestions!
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The Teacher Pipeline: Closing Racial Gaps in our Teacher Workforce

Melanie Rucinski (2023). "Who Becomes a Teacher? Racial Diversity in the K-12 to Teacher Pipeline." Harvard Kennedy School.
A recent study by Melanie Rucinski at the Harvard Kennedy School examined how Massachusetts can increase racial diversity among its teacher workforce. The study followed Massachusetts public high school students from the graduating classes of 2003-2013 to see how they progressed through college and into teaching careers.
The main findings are:
  • Over half of the diversity gap emerges before students finish college. Specifically, Black and Hispanic students were 73% as likely to graduate high school as White and Asian students, but only 32% as likely to graduate college.
  • A second gap occurs with taking teacher certification tests. Black, Hispanic, and Asian college graduates are less likely to take these tests than White graduates.
  • Students of color who take the teacher certification tests are just as likely to become teachers as White test-takers.
  • Once hired, retention rates are similar across racial groups for at least 3 years.
What do these findings suggest for our students and educators?
  • We need to focus first on helping more students of color complete high school and college. Black and Hispanic students graduate high school and college at much lower rates than White and Asian students. As a result, there are fewer Black and Hispanic candidates entering the teacher pipeline to begin with.
  • After that, improving certification processes could also help increase representation. The MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) offers MTEL fee vouchers to cover the cost of taking teacher certification tests, and partners with over 60 preparation programs to help prepare new teachers for their careers.

How Students' Test Scores and Behaviors Influence Later Life Outcomes

Ben Backes, James Cowan, Dan Goldhaber, Roddy Theobald (2023). "How to Measure a Teacher: The Influence of Test and Nontest Value-Added on Long-Run Student Outcomes." National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER).
A recent study from CALDER examined how different measures of teacher effectiveness — one based on student test scores and one based on student behaviors, such as attendance and discipline — predict students' later outcomes, including high school graduation, college enrollment, and the “quality” of the college they attend.
The main findings were:
  • Both measures of teacher effectiveness, student test scores, and student behaviors, positively predicted students' college outcomes, including overall college quality, enrollment, and attendance at four-year colleges.
  • Student behaviors better predicted whether a student would enroll in college, while student test scores better specifically predicted whether a student would attend a more selective college.
  • When looking at high school outcomes, student behaviors better predicted high school graduation, while test scores predicted the total number of Advanced Placement (AP) credits earned, tests passed, and SAT scores.
What do these findings suggest for our students and educators?
  • The study suggests that both student test scores and their behaviors, such as attendance and discipline, play significant roles in determining their college opportunities. While academic performance is influenced by test-based teaching effectiveness, behavioral factors are strongly linked to high school graduation rates.
  • The findings indicate that students should strive to perform well academically while also maintaining good attendance and behavior in the classroom to maximize their chances of accessing quality higher education.
  • Educators should recognize that both test scores and student behaviors impact students' outcomes differently. Educators can aim to provide a well-rounded teaching approach that addresses both academic and behavioral aspects.

Increasing Access to Four-Year Public Colleges: A Path to Economic Mobility?

Whitney Kozakowski (2023). "Are Four-Year Public Colleges Engines for Economic Mobility? Evidence from Statewide Admissions Thresholds." Mathematica
The main findings were:
  • Students who just met the admission requirements were 25% more likely to be accepted to a four-year public college in Massachusetts.
  • Having these students admitted led to a 58% increase in enrollment in four-year public colleges in Massachusetts. Many of these admitted students would have otherwise attended two-year colleges or not enrolled in college at all.
  • Admission resulted in a 15% increase in bachelor's degree completion.
  • For lower-income and racial minority students, admission boosted annual earnings by about $8,000 (in 2018 dollars, adjusted for inflation) 8-14 years after applying to college.
  • There was no increase in the private cost of college for students, likely because some switched from more expensive private colleges to cheaper in-state public options.
What do these findings suggest for our students and educators?
  • The study indicates that expanding access to four-year public colleges could be an effective way to improve economic mobility, especially for disadvantaged students.
  • Helping students meet the requirements to get into four-year colleges while in high school — through academic preparation and testing — can have long-term payoffs.

Caring for the Caregivers: Parent and Teen Mental Health

Making Caring Common (2023). "Caring for the Caregivers: The Critical Link Between Parent and Teen Mental Health." Harvard Graduate School of Education.
A new report from the Making Caring Common Project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education reveals a strong correlation between parent and teen mental health. The research shows anxiety and depression rates among parents that mirror those of their adolescent children — teens with depressed parents are five times more likely to be depressed themselves.  
To address this public health issue, the authors encourage broad outreach efforts by various organizations, such as government agencies, policymakers, faith-based organizations, public libraries, employers, and schools, to provide support for the mental health of parents and caregivers.

The authors offer five prevention strategies:
  1. Listen to adolescents: Approach teens with openness, empathy, and curiosity. Don't just jump to solutions.
  2. Help teens develop coping skills: Provide parents with facts on anxiety and depression and resources to help teens build cognitive-behavioral and stress management skills. 
  3. Support the mental health of caregivers and families: Expand family therapy and support caregiver connections. 
  4. Help parents talk about their mental health with teens: Give parents strategies for age-appropriate disclosure about their own challenges. 
  5. Help teens find purpose through service and community programs: Steer teens towards community service and activities that provide meaning beyond self. 
What does this mean for our students and educators? 
  • The findings underscore the value of engaging families more holistically in mental health solutions. Schools may want to consider supporting caregiver mental health as part of a strategy to address rising youth mental illness.  
  • Educators may benefit from training to detect anxiety and depression and connect students to treatment. 
  • As schools expand mental health services, parent and community outreach may also be prioritized to care for caregivers and prevent teen disorders. 

Learning recovery post COVID-19

Ian Callen et al. (2023). "Summer School as a Learning Loss Recovery Strategy After COVID-19: Evidence From Summer 2022." CALDER Working Paper No. 291-0823.
The COVID-19 pandemic led to significant learning loss for many students, prompting schools to expand summer school programs in 2022 to help students catch up. A new national study analyzed summer school enrollment and performance data from eight school districts across seven states in the country. These summer school programs — which served over 400,000 students — were expanded as a strategy to address learning losses from the COVID-19 pandemic. The researchers looked at the academic progress in math and reading of students who attended summer programs in 2022 compared to similar peers who did not attend.
The main findings are:
  • Due to low enrollment, summer programs in the school districts analyzed only recovered a small share of the pandemic-related learning losses in math.
  • The gains in math were driven by students in upper elementary grades (grade 5 and below). There were no significant gains in middle school grades.
  • There were no significant gains in reading achievement for students who attended summer school compared to peers.
  • On average across the districts studied, only 13% of students enrolled in summer school. With such low participation rates, the summer programs made minimal progress in closing district-wide learning losses.
What does this mean for our students and educators?
  • The findings suggest summer learning programs can be an effective strategy to boost math achievement, especially for upper elementary students. However, higher participation rates are needed to make meaningful progress on district-wide learning loss.
  • The findings also suggest it is more difficult to achieve reading gains than math gains through summer school, therefore, parents may still want to encourage reading practice over the summer.
  • With learning losses remaining large over two years into the pandemic, summer school alone cannot address the scale of academic recovery needed. Schools could consider combining summer learning with school-year interventions like tutoring. As federal COVID relief funds expire, districts may need to replace broad enrollment in summer programs with more targeted recruitment of students most behind academically.

MTEL test scores and teacher effectiveness

James Cowan, Dan Goldhaber, Zeyu Jin, and Roddy Theobald (2023). "Assessing Licensure Test Performance and Predictive Validity for Different Teacher Subgroups." American Educational Research Journal.
As debates continue around teacher licensure exams and their potential impacts on diversity in the educator workforce, this recent Massachusetts-based study offers timely insights. The study examined whether teacher licensure test scores predict teacher effectiveness equally well for teachers of different racial/ethnic backgrounds. The study uses MTEL test scores and later performance as classroom teachers in Massachusetts. 
The main findings are:
  • Teacher licensure test scores positively predict teacher effectiveness — measured by impacts on student test scores and principal evaluations of teaching performance.
  • The study does not find major differences in how well the tests predict effectiveness for white teachers versus teachers of color. This contrasts with some prior findings that the tests may be less valid predictors of effectiveness for teachers of color.
  • The study finds that teachers of color have lower pass rates on licensure tests. It also finds that teachers of color are less likely to retake the tests if they initially fail, which is in line with a previous study in the state.
What does this mean for our students and educators?
  • The findings suggest that teacher licensure tests evaluate important skills that are predictive of effective teaching in the classroom.
  • Overall, the study provides new evidence to inform debates about the appropriate uses of teacher licensure testing.