Teacher Quality Pseudofacts, Part II

In Part I, I looked at the Richwine/Biggs criteria for judging school teachers’ cognitive ability based on GRE scores, which primarily involves secondary school teachers.

On to undergraduate ed majors and those terrible, terrible SAT scores:

Students who indicated that education was their intended major earned a combined math and verbal score of 967, about 0.31 standard deviations below the average of 1,017, meaning the 38th percentile in a standard normal distribution.

Just last year, the National Council on Teacher Quality buried the lede in its researchon student teaching:

Fewer than half of all education majors (or even intended education) majors become teachers. Can someone tell me why eduformers are always squawking about ed majors’ SAT scores?

Yes, elementary school teachers are less than stellar, academically speaking. But why not use data that directly links SAT scores to teachers? The Educational Testing Service released a report on teacher quality that is directly on point–so, naturally, eduformers ignore it.

In the 2002-2005 cohort, elementary school teachers’ combined SAT score was over 1000, nearly 40 points higher than the overall mean that Richwine and Biggs use. Secondary school teacher scores in academic subjects are much higher–math and science teachers are above the national average in both, and English/history teachers above in verbal and slightly below in math.

Now, these reports are only for 20 states and DC (California, for example, doesn’t use Praxis tests and so wouldn’t be included). But it’s far more accurate than SAT scores for ed majors.

But Biggs and Richwine use education major SAT scores, when a Google search reveals actual teacher SAT scores for a huge number of states, and then, as before, they conflate elementary and secondary school teacher scores (to say nothing of PE and special ed instructors).

I really don’t mind an argument about teacher salary. But the data used on teacher quality is simply crap. Next time out, I’ll talk about why eduformers mislead about teacher quality (apart from the obvious goal of saving in salary), and why progressives let them.

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31 responses to “Teacher Quality Pseudofacts, Part II

  • Joanne Jacobs

    Briggs and Richwine mention the low SAT scores of students interested in education majors, but concede that many won’t become teachers. They look at scores of actual teachers in Missouri and at the AFQT scores of actual teachers (and non-teachers) who participated in a longitudinal youth survey.

    • educationrealist

      Hey, Joanne.

      They don’t just mention the SAT scores–it’s the first element of their proofs. Moreover, it’s a bit bizarre to go so far out of the way to cite these scores when the ETS, which is responsible for state certification tests for teachers in many states, has all the data closely linked. Why use so many proxies? They also combine all teachers, implying that the rate of low achievement is uniform, when in fact it’s been well established for years that secondary teachers of academic subjects have better credentials.

      I’m going to write more about this next point: it’s very significant that all discussions of teacher quality never mention the state tests. The attack is always pointed at ed schools and their criteria. I think that’s significant.

      And don’t you think it’s odd, how they combine the scores and treat all teachers equally? I don’t think they’d do that if they didn’t have an unstated agenda.

  • Physical education teachers are not smart | Gene Expression | Discover Magazine

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  • Nicole Bailey

    As a third grade teacher I found your article to reflect what is wrong with Americans; we degrade and throw down the very people who chose to educate. Why not write an article showcasing the teachers who dedicate their lives to children? You do little to promote change in the system with this data. You are a disgrace.

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  • KLO

    The scores still seem low to me. When you consider that few people with really low SAT scores (<800 combined Verbal and Math) are able to pass the Praxis exam, the distribution of people passing the Praxis exam is likely clustered close to the averages you see here. Thus, a greater bulk of teachers are mediocre intellects than is true of the general college-educated population. True, the real dullards are also weeded out, but this is cold comfort to those who want to see really smart teachers in the classroom in greater numbers.

    Look, I went to school and I know what my teachers were like. They were, with few exceptions, the least intelligent adults with whom I have had sustained contact during my life. My classmates in primary and secondary school who went on to become teachers had similarly unimpressive intellects. Whether this is a bad thing or not is an open question, but I don't think it is debatable that the teaching profession is heavily stocked with mediocre intellects.

  • KLO

    Another point worth making is that, according to the ETS paper you cited, elementary school teachers make up more than half of the teaching population. Given this, I think it is misleading to focus so heavily on the relatively small numbers of teachers seeking a license in a content-specific area as a means of proving that the teaching profession does not suffer from a quality problem. The data clearly do show that the average Praxis I passer has a significantly lower SAT score (1039) than the average college graduate (1085).

    • educationrealist

      It’s not misleading. What’s misleading is to lump them all together.

      And there are far more elementary school teachers because they only teach 30 at a time. Middle and secondary teachers reach far more students per teacher.

      It’s not terribly complicated:

      Elementary teachers have abilities at about the 45th percentile, on average. This means that some get above 50%, others are much lower.

      Secondary school teachers in content areas are drawn almost entirely from the top half of the ability distribution.

      To ignore that difference is to lie.

  • KLO

    Education reformers focus more attention on teacher quality at the elementary school level than at any other level. Although much of what they think is illogical, this seems to make sense to me. Education builds over time, so one would expect that the earlier the improvement the better the end result will be.

    The possibility that much of the teacher quality problems are confined to elementary schools is not very encouraging.

    • educationrealist

      While it might seem to make sense, there’s no evidence supporting the belief that “gettting them ready early” has any impact. For example, while KIPP followed its students through to see how many graduated from college, it never gave info (that it certainly must have) on the students’ academic achievement in high school. I’m sure KIPP would have provided the data had it shown an impressive boost.

      Besides, it doesn’t make sense, despite the temptation. Elementary school is easier than high school–and the data shows it. Kids do better in elementary school than they do in high school–despite the supposedly terrible teachers.

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    • elvisd

      “No teacher ever failed from ignorance.”

      A teacher fails because he doesn’t know how to get the material through to the kids. Case in point: I taught French for a while. Was I fluent? On the BYU test, I was a little under 500 on a 0-900 scale. The rest of the foreign language teachers were way over me in knowledge of their languages (there were some native speakers). But I was the only teacher who said to hell with the textbook, and used a conversation-based method. As a result, I had 9th graders who passed college placement tests. Why? I made sure that they actually internalized what I taught them. It was pitiful seeing kids who after 2 years of FL with a fluent speaker, had learned almost nothing.

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  • frerelapin

    After years of assertions that Louisiana’s educational deficiencies were because of incompetent teachers;



    This should be real man-bites-dog stuff, but only the Advocate put it on the front page; the _Times Picayune_ (nola.com) buried it.

    Who will be the next scapegoat?

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