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Education Researcher Stresses Importance of Teacher Quality at HGSE

Harvard Graduate School of Education
The Harvard Graduate School of Education

Stanford University Education professor Susanna Loeb spoke about the impact of quality teaching on student attendance at the Graduate School of Education Tuesday.

Loeb’s lecture focused on her research studying seventh to eleventh grade student attendance in an urban school district in California. She noted that many previous studies have examined the effect of teacher quality on test scores, but few have examined the effect of teacher quality on attendance.

“We are thinking as a country about all sorts of things that we care about for students, yet we tend to focus on test performance,” Loeb said.

She noted that, in most circumstances, test scores do not predict student drop-out, but attendance does. Loeb said she found a correlation between greater student attendance and higher individual teacher quality based on evaluations within the school district.

According to Loeb, a student on average had 44 percent fewer unexcused absences in math class if he or she had a teacher measured to be within one standard deviation above the average teacher quality rating. The average student would have 54 percent fewer unexcused absences for English class with a higher quality teacher.

The lecture was part of a series hosted by the Partnering in Education Research program at the GSE Center for Education Policy Research. The PIER Fellowship program is designed to train doctoral students on how to partner with school districts for the purpose of education research.

“This public seminar series is part of [the fellowship] training. We bring leading researchers from across the country doing really interesting educational policy quantitative research to present to doctoral students,” said Irene A. Pak, the manager of the PIER program.

Loeb’s lecture was cosponsored by the Harvard Kennedy School Inequality and Social Policy Program.

Thomas Kelley-Kemple, a PIER Fellow and second year doctoral student in the education policy program at the GSE, said that he thought Loeb’s lecture brought a new dimension to the discussion of teacher efficacy.

“There’s been extensive work about how teachers affect test scores, but as [Loeb] pointed out, there’s been substantially less on how teachers affect student behaviors, specifically attendance, [especially] in high school,” Kelley-Kemple said. “So I think this is adding something really valuable to how we think about what teachers do and how they affect students.”

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