Sunday, December 09, 2007

Study of state's teachers looks at what best helps students advance

Experience matters, even after taking degrees into account. -Angela

Last updated December 3, 2007 8:59 p.m. PT


Teacher experience, and not advanced degrees, has a greater effect on how well students succeed, a new state report says.

"In the first few years on the job, a teacher gains considerably in her or his ability to improve the academic performance of students," said the report, issued Sunday by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy.

Combining the results of 15 studies on teacher pay, the researchers found a dramatic improvement in student achievement between one and five years of teacher experience and a more gradual boost in the years following. Student achievement in these studies was mostly tracked through scores on standardized reading or math tests.

A similar analysis of studies concerning teachers getting graduate degrees found that the degrees seemed to have little or no effect on student outcomes.

The report makes a preliminary recommendation that any changes in the way teachers are paid should emphasize financial rewards for experience rather than higher pay for teachers with graduate degrees.

The report was made for a state task force looking at basic education funding. The Legislature assigned the task force to find the best way to pay for education that improves student achievement and graduation rates.

The task force has until early 2009 to make its recommendations, in part because that's when a state court plans to hear arguments on an education funding lawsuit brought by school districts and education organizations across the state.

Researchers at the Washington State Institute for Public Policy are still working on their analysis of the effectiveness of other financial incentives for teachers, such as bonuses for completing a national certification program; proposals for extra pay for teaching in high-poverty, low-performing schools; or higher pay for teaching certain subjects like math and science.

The institute also will study the effectiveness of voluntary all-day kindergarten, smaller classes, professional development for all staff members, focused instructional support and extended day and school year options.

Former state legislator Dan Grimm, chairman of the task force, said it will spend next year coming up with proposals for the 2009 legislative session.

"There are no guarantees, but I think it's a worthwhile effort or obviously I wouldn't be on the task force," Grimm said.

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