Poor quality teachers may prevent children from reaching reading potential, study finds

Apr 22, 2010

When it comes to early reading, a bad teacher can prevent children from reaching their full potential.

That's the finding of a new Florida State University study published in the April 23 issue of the journal Science. The study, " Moderates the Genetic Effects on Early Reading," may put an end to a longstanding scholarly debate about the amount of influence teachers have on students' reading achievement.

"Teachers have an effect on student reading achievement," said psychology Associate Professor Jeanette Taylor, the study's lead author. "Better teachers provide an environment that allows children to reach their potential."

Scholars know that genetics play the biggest role in a child's reading achievement, while the environment — including the classroom experience — plays a smaller role. This study is significant because it shows for the first time that teachers have a direct influence on the among children.

"When children receive more effective instruction, they will tend to develop at their optimal trajectory," Taylor said. "When instruction is less effective, then children's learning potential is not optimized and are left unrealized."

As state and national policy increasingly focuses on teacher quality, the effect that teachers have on the genetic foundation of reading is an important question. Taylor and her four co-authors, all Florida State researchers, addressed the question by examining data from identical and fraternal twins taking part in the Florida Twin Project on Reading. share all of their genes while fraternal twins share, on average, half of their genes, so comparing them gives researchers a way to infer how much of the variability in reading achievement is because of genetic versus environmental influences.

The researchers studied 280 identical and 526 fraternal in the first and second grades from Florida schools representing diverse environments. Using the scores of the twins' Oral Reading Fluency (ORF) test, which assesses reading skill, they estimated how much of the variability in reading was due to genetic factors. Then they used the test scores of the twins' classmates to create a measure of teacher quality.

If the end-of-the-year test scores showed the entire classroom of students made gains in reading achievement beyond expectations based on their scores at the beginning of the year, the researchers attributed the gain to a high-quality teacher. Conversely, the researchers assumed classrooms with lower gains had poor quality teachers. They did not include the twins in these calculations so that their teachers' quality scores were independent of the twins' achievement.

"We can essentially rank teachers in terms of the benefit to students' learning from being in a particular teacher's classroom in comparison to the average amount of gain seen in a particular grade," said Alysia Roehrig, an assistant professor in the College of Education and one of the study's co-authors.

The authors cautioned that other factors, such as classmates, resources and the physical classroom itself, might also influence the level of reading achievement among young students. However, this study clearly underscores the importance of teachers.

"Putting high quality teachers in the classroom will not eliminate variability among students nor guarantee equally high achievement from all children, but ignoring teachers as a salient contributor to the classroom environment represents a missed opportunity to promote children's potential in school and their success in life," the researchers concluded.

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pauljpease
4.5 / 5 (2) Apr 22, 2010
The article states:

"This study is significant because it shows for the first time that teachers have a direct influence on the genetic variability among children."

This is obviously a misstatement, unless they're saying the teachers are also the parents!

Also, based on this report, they have shown no evidence that better teachers produce better readers. They have shown that some classes produce better readers than others, and then they assign credit for those differences to the teacher. But there are so many factors that could affect the average reading ability of a class, including random variation. By chance you expect some classes to have better than average readers, and some to have worse than average readers. At the very least they need to show that the same teacher consistently produces better readers. There is no report of whether they tested this in this study.
pauljpease
4.5 / 5 (2) Apr 22, 2010
That being said, it's not unreasonable to think the teacher has some effect on student achievement. But a teacher affects a class in a lot of different ways that could affect achievement. Do they have a different teaching style? What about their discipline. One misbehaving student could bring down the achievement of everybody in the class, and how the teacher deals with behavior issues might be just as important as how they teach. There are way too many variables in a study like this to draw any serious conclusions, other than "genetics doesn't determine everything", which we already knew.
vanderMerwe
1 / 5 (1) Apr 23, 2010
Until education in the US moves away from its late 18th century cottage industry model, viz, one teacher playing little tin god to 20-30 kids, education in the US is going nowhere.
moj85
4 / 5 (1) Apr 23, 2010
Yeah, I agree with pauljpease. They are not, through experimental setup, assigning which teachers are 'good' and 'bad'. They are calling them good and bad depending on their end results. Too many variables to call this anything other than a poorly designed experiment (though I like the twin analysis. Obviously that has some genetic aspect that affects reading level).

Summary: Teachers effect learning.

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