TQB: Teacher Quality Bulletin

Academic vs. non-academic outcomes: a troubling trade-off

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Earlier this year, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) launched "nonacademic factors" into the national discussion, as such factors can now be used as part of school accountability metrics. As states explore which factors to use, they may want to consider a recent working paper that finds that teachers who are rock stars at raising student test scores may not be the same ones whose students are either well-behaved or even particularly happy.

Using a large sample of upper elementary classrooms across four districts, David Blazar of Harvard University and Matthew A. Kraft of Brown University examine teacher influence on math test scores and students' self-reported behavior, self-efficacy, and happiness in math class. Their work revealed not only that teachers do indeed have a significant effect on non-tested outcomes, but also that the teachers who are most effective at improving test scores are not necessarily the same teachers who are most effective at improving non-tested outcomes—echoing the findings of another recent study

Although Blazar and Kraft don't take a stand on incorporating measures of non-tested outcomes into teacher evaluations, their findings highlight the potential difficulty of doing so. In the sample, more than a quarter of the most effective teachers (based on test scores) were among the least effective when evaluated using student non-tested outcomes. 

To further complicate matters, the non-academic outcomes don't always correlate. For example, teacher scores on classroom organization had a positive correlation with student behavior but a negative correlation with happiness in class. 

These contradictory findings are problematic since many of these factors influence long-term outcomes. Could it be that teachers improve one important student outcome at the expense of another? Or does this study highlight the complexity of the student experience and the challenges of measuring it with a survey? 

Clearly, this study raises more questions than it answers.