The Power of Prediction

We’ve all heard it before: Every teacher is terrible during his or her first years on the job. The trouble is, it doesn’t seem to be true.

Emerging evidence is contradicting the notion that early-career teachers universally struggle. Instead, as we recently wrote about in our newest report, Leap Year, we’re finding out that teachers have incredibly different experiences as novices—some start strong and keep getting better, while others walk in with few skills and have trouble developing more.

Because research also tells us that the best predictor of future performance is past performance, the first months and years of a teacher’s career can provide important information. That’s what we found when we launched the Assessment of Classroom Effectiveness (ACE), a new evaluation system for first-year teachers that is the focus of Leap Year. (For more on the backstory, click here or here.)

Much like our experience with ACE, a recent study by the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER), found that not only do teachers perform differently during their first two years in the classroom, but also that the most effective early-career teachers are, a few years later, generally the most effective teachers overall. Researchers Allison Atteberry, Susanna Loeb and Jim Wycoff looked at value-added data over five years for close to 900 New York City teachers, and also found that the least effective new teachers typically failed to get better with experience—by their fifth year on the job, they were less effective, on average, than the median first-year teacher.

To be sure, as with all studies, this one had some limitations. Many studies using value-added find that it is difficult to distinguish teachers in the middle of the performance distribution from one another, and this study is no exception. However, evaluations that include multiple measures can help provide more consistent estimates of teacher performance—which is why every serious effort to build teacher evaluations considers multiple measures, including our own TNTP Academy programs.

In the face of this evidence, it’s time to reset our expectations. New teachers whose students are thriving should be recognized as high performers, and schools should work hard to retain them. Similarly, teachers who are clearly struggling early on should be offered support and assistance, but performance expectations should be realistic and include the possibility that they may not improve enough over time to earn the privilege of continuing to teach.  Rather than simply writing them off, we should embrace the first years of teaching as an important source of information about teachers’ talent, growth and potential to change students’ lives.

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, stands in front of her students while introducing them to the captivating world of science

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, introduces her students to the captivating world of science.

About TNTP

TNTP is the nation’s leading research, policy, and consulting organization dedicated to transforming America’s public education system, so that every generation thrives.

Today, we work side-by-side with educators, system leaders, and communities across 39 states and over 6,000 districts nationwide to reach ambitious goals for student success.

Yet the possibilities we imagine push far beyond the walls of school and the education field alone. We are catalyzing a movement across sectors to create multiple pathways for young people to achieve academic, economic, and social mobility.

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