Great English teachers improve students’ math scores

Better English teachers not only boost a student’s reading and writing performance in the short term, but they also raise their students math and English achievement in future years. That’s according to a working paper, “Learning that Lasts: Unpacking Variation in Teachers’ Effects on Students’ Long-Term Knowledge,” by a team of Stanford University and University of Virginia researchers presented at the 7th Annual Calder Research Conference on January 23, 2014.

The researchers, Benjamin Master, Susanna Loeb and James Wyckoff, looked at 700,000 students in New York City in third through eighth grade over the course of eight school years (from 2003-04 to 2011-12).  Their research initially confirmed the lasting impact of good English language arts or math teachers within their subjects. These teachers not only produce higher than expected test scores during the year that they are teaching the students, but their students go on to score better in that subject in subsequent years. Specifically, one-fifth of a teacher’s value added to achievement persists into the subsequent year.

More surprising were the crossover effects from English to math. The researchers found that the students of good English language arts teachers had higher than expected math scores in subsequent years. And this long-term boost to math performance was nearly as large (three quarters) as the long-term benefits within the subject of English. Conversely, good math teachers had only minimal long-term effects on English performance. Their positive effects were more subject specific.

“Our findings reinforce the value of investments in student learning in ELA (English language arts), even if the immediate effects of teachers or other instructional interventions may appear modest in comparison to effects on short-term math achievement,” the authors wrote. The authors added  that their motivation for this study was a concern that many school districts are too narrowly focusing on rating teachers based on short-term test gains and they wanted to try to understand what kinds of teaching produce long-term learning benefits.

Why English teaching matters so much in other subjects is unclear. Some speculate that other subjects require some amount of reading and writing, whereas no math is required in many other classes. For example, you have to be able to read and understand word problems to do well in math.

The researchers also found substantial demographic differences in the long-term benefits to good teaching. More long-term benefits to good teaching were found in schools that serve more white and high income students. Long-term benefits to good teaching were smaller in schools dominated by minority and low-income students.

POSTED BY Jill Barshay ON January 24, 2014

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Colette Bennett

I have been exploring the crossover between Common Core Literacy Standards and the 8 Mathematical Practice Standards. For example, CCSS.Math.Practice.MP1 states “Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.”
This standard should not be not limited to applications in math classes; I believe this standard should be shared with multiple academic disciplines. A “retranslation” of this standard’s descriptors, explained on the Common Core Website, that I use in every lesson i my ELA classroom everyday:

“Mathematically proficient students start by explaining to themselves the meaning of a problem and looking for entry points to its solution.”

If you drop the word “mathematically”, this standard measures any student’s ability to comprehend a problem, or question, in any subject area, and encourages students to be self-selective on determining the best way to solve a problem. In the English/Language Arts class, this “entry point for a solution” could be anything from selecting an independent book to read, to choosing a thesis for a research paper, or to picking a presentation software for an oral report to name a few examples.

The findings in this report demonstrate how literacy practices in math improve scores. The Common Core Standards outline math practices that are applicable in any content area classroom. When teachers exploit these crossovers, student understanding will certainly improve….with or without the measurement of test scores.

Jill Barshay

@Colette Bennett. Thank you for your comment. Very interesting.

[…] Good English teachers raise their students’ reading, writing and math performance for years, according to a working paper by a team of Stanford and University of Virginia researchers. Effective math teachers raise achievement only in math. […]

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Swaldo Laurence

There is an important element to consider from the last paragraph. Why minority and low-income students will not show long-term benefits after good English teaching? Considering that a big % of minority students are English Language learners could this be due to what other researches show about ELLs? That ELLs would cognitively be better off if their instruction is delivered in their first language together with their target language (English)?
This article (research) validates what Asian and European countries highly valued and that is Dual Language programs. DL programs could be the best educational model available for ALL our students. Multilingualism increases everybody’s cognitive levels so in the long-run it might improve students’ scores in all subjects.

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