Evaluating the educator

Florida literacy specialist’s findings show need to rethink what constitutes teacher efficacy

08/23/2010  |  LAUREN SANDERS
effective teaching

How can low-performing schools identify which teachers are best qualified to improve student performance? Is there a relationship between a teacher’s characteristics and their belief in their own ability to be successful?

These are the questions Pamela Craig, Ph. D. sought to answer in her research examining whether certain characteristics had any correlation with language arts teachers’ confidence in their ability to be successful or “efficacy” when instructing at low-performing public Florida high schools. The specific characteristics evaluated in this study included, but were not limited to: gender, degrees, certifications, years of experience, number of years at current school and current courses. 

Her desire to find the answer to these questions stems from more than 15 years of work with adolescents, most recently through her current adolescent literacy and continuous improvement work with low-performing schools throughout the state of Florida.

When a school is classified as underperforming based on the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test given to 9th and 10th grade students, the Florida Department of Education requires that “highly qualified teachers” be reassigned to all of these schools and classes. But there is great disparity in what constitutes a highly qualified teacher. By No Child Left Behind Act standards, a young teacher fresh out of college could be considered more highly qualified than someone with more years of experience and pedagogical training.

“Considering the pressure on the school to turn student test scores around, it’s critical to identify which teachers are best suited to face this challenge,” said Craig. “Schools must carefully select teachers who believe they possess the ability to raise student achievement and are not hindered by preconceived notions that these students are incapable of achieving.”

Craig’s research found that 82 percent of the low-performing schools surveyed reported more than 60 percent of their students are not achieving Florida-defined high standards of reading, and less than 50 percent of all students in participating schools are meeting Florida-defined high standards of reading.

The majority of her participants (92 percent) met the minimum requirements defined by the No Child Left Behind Act; however, only 37 percent of participating language arts teachers at Florida’s low-performing public high schools have degrees in English education, and only 15 percent possess degrees in reading or reading education. Additionally, the majority of responding teachers had only been teaching at the school site for five or fewer years.

Despite the majority of responding teachers reporting a moderate to high sense of classroom management and instructional practice efficacy, the study suggests that over 43 percent of the teachers do not believe they possess the skills or knowledge necessary to engage students in learning.

“Teachers’ beliefs in their ability to manage the classroom and engage students in learning should be taken into consideration when evaluating if a teacher is properly qualified to instruct at a low-performing school,” explained Craig. “My hope is that the insight I took away from this research will help schools improve teacher education to better prepare teachers to understand how to address the needs of low-performing students.”

Her study suggests highly qualified teachers, as defined historically by a teacher’s credentials and education, aren’t the only answer to turning around low-performing schools.

“A teacher’s characteristics and their efficacy can be a more accurate determination of a highly qualified teacher,” said Craig.

Based on Craig’s findings, improving student achievement may require more than just providing highly qualified teachers, as determined by their area and level of education. In order to recruit and obtain teachers who are capable of impacting students’ achievements in the classroom, districts and schools must more closely examine the characteristics of teachers to ensure they are prepared to work successfully with low-performing students with a strong sense of efficacy.

Professional development designed to provide teachers with classroom strategies would benefit schools and help improve school-wide literacy culture. Craig created a literacy action plan for a Florida K-8 school that wasn’t meeting standards and merely three years after the plan was put into action, the school met its requirements.

Examining Craig’s data and evaluating this research helps define factors other than credentialing that need to be identified when choosing a teacher best suited for struggling students.

Craig took her findings from this study into consideration when creating the Take 10 Reading program for Recorded Books K-12. This practice tool provides guidance to teachers seeking to teach essential reading strategies to adolescent learners in just 10 minutes a day.

“With so much emphasis on improving the level of literacy and reading skills amongst students in under-performing schools, it’s easy to ignore the need to improve the level of teacher efficacy to make educators feel more empowered and effective in the classroom. The importance of professional development and support for teachers leading these challenging classrooms cannot be overlooked,” said Craig.

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