Friday, April 8, 2011

Is the ‘Teacher Effect’ the Dominant Factor in Students’ Academic Gain?

Some blog followers might be interested in discussion-list post “Is the ‘Teacher Effect’ the Dominant Factor in Students’ Academic Gain?” [Hake (2011)].

The abstract reads:


ABSTRACT: In his PhysLrnR post Rob Spencer pointed out that Sanders & Rivers (1996) in “Cumulative and Residual Effects of Teachers on Future Student Academic Achievement” concluded that “Within grade levels, the single most dominant factor affecting student academic gain is teacher effect.” This post considers four items relevant to Spencer's post:

I . VALUE-ADDED ASSESSMENT (VAA) criticized earlier in (a) “First, Let's Fire All the Teachers!” [Hake (2010a,b)], and (b) “Value-Added Inequities: Should Value-Added Measures Be Used to Evaluate Teachers?” [Hake (2011a,b)]; and in this post by reference to (c) “Using Student Progress To Evaluate Teachers: A Primer on Value-Added Models” [Braun (2005)], (d) “Challenges of Value-Added Assessment” [Doran & Fleischman (2005)], (e) “Problems with the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers” [Baker, Barton, Darling-Hammond, Haertel, Ladd, Linn, Ravitch, Rothstein, Shavelson, & Shepard (2010)], (f) The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education [Ravitch (2010)].

II. SOCIOECONOMIC STATUS (SES) stressed by Bernard Ricca, who pointed to Toni Feder's 2009 Physics Today report on Marder & Bansal (2009). Their statistical-mechanics study of “Flow and diffusion of high-stakes test scores” indicated that: Poverty is a more powerful influence on test scores than value added by teachers and schools. The case that poverty is an overriding influence on students' classroom achievement has been forcefully argued by David Berliner in “Our Impoverished View of Educational Reform” [Berliner (2009) <>], andPoverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success [Berliner (2010) <>].

III. LESSONS FROM THE PHYSICS EDUCATION REFORM EFFORT suggest that: (a) high school, college, and university courses employing “Interactive Engagement" (IE) methods result in average normalized gains g(ave) in conceptual understanding that are about two standard deviations greater the g(ave) achieved by traditional (T) passive-student lecture courses [Hake (1998a,b; 2008); (b) “Teachers who possess both content knowledge and ‘pedagogical content knowledge’ are better equipped to deliver IE instruction” [Hake (2002)]; and (c) paraphrasing Wells et al. (1995): “teacher expertise is the critical factor in improving introductory physics instruction.” I suspect that the growing body of educational research in disciplines other than physics will eventually show that these same lessons apply to most other academic subjects.


(a) if “academic gain” means “gain in higher-level learning for U.S. K-12 students,” then the answer is: “NO! POVERTY is the dominant factor” - see ‘I’ and ‘II’ above, and the next most important factor is the degree to which ‘Interactive Engagement’ is provided by courses and teachers - see III above”;

(b) if “academic gain” means “gain in higher-level learning for students in higher education” then the answer is: “The dominant factor in promoting academic gain is the degree to which ‘Interactive Engagement’ in provided by courses and teachers - see III above.”


To access the complete 69 kB post please click on

Richard Hake, Emeritus Professor of Physics, Indiana University

Honorary Member, Curmudgeon Lodge of Deventer, The Netherlands

President, PEdants for Definitive Academic References which Recognize the

Invention of the Internet (PEDARRII)

“The [Race to the Top] initiative should support research based on data that links student test scores with their teachers, but should not prematurely promote the use of value-added approaches (which evaluate teachers based on gains in their students' performance) to reward or punish teachers.”

“Letter Report to the U.S. Dept. of Education on the Race to the Top Fund” [NRC (2009)]

REFERENCES [All URL’s accessed on 08 April 2011 and shortened by]

Hake, R.R. 2011. “Is the ‘Teacher Effect’ the Dominant Factor in Students’ Academic Gain?” online on the OPEN! AERA-L archives at Post of 7 Apr 2011 17:51:59-0700 to AERA-L and Net-Gold. The abstract and link to the complete post are being transmitted to various discussion lists.

NRC. 2009. National Research Council, Board on Testing and Assessment (chaired by E.H. Haertel), “Letter Report to the U.S. Department of Education on the Race to the Top Fund,” online at

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