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Recap of Leigh Wedenoja's Speaker Series Lecture

December 11, 2018

On Nov. 13, Postdoctoral Research Associate in Education Leigh Wedenoja delivered her Speaker Series lecture, "Second Time's the Charm? How Repeated Student-Teacher Matches Contribute to Cognitive and Non-cognitive Achievement,” to a full audience in the Dewey Conference Room of the Barus Building.

There is increasing research on the importance of the student-teacher relationship to student achievement, Wedenoja. Recent work has found that elementary students who have the same teacher two years in a row perform better on math exams and surveys of parents and teachers support these types of "looping" classrooms.

However, the mechanisms through which a repeat teacher improves performance, especially in middle and high school, is less understood. Wedenoja’s talk expanded the literature in two ways, first by estimating the effect of teachers on non-cognitive outcomes (attendance, truancy, and disciplinary incidents) and second estimating the effect of having a repeat teacher in middle and high school.

Student-teacher matches in grades 3-11 were documented in 2007-2017 high school and 2007-2014 middle/elementary school data collected from multiple sources including the Department of Education and the Education Research Alliance. Teachers’ HR data, student-teacher match files, disciplinary, attendance, enrollment, and student achievement files were examined. Types of repetition included looping, in which teachers stay with the same class for 2+ years (5-6% of cases); grade changes; and teachers who teach multiple grades or subjects (72% of high school and 61% of middle school cases). Eighth graders had the highest percentages (11.3% in math and 11.4% in reading) of repeats amongst all of the studied grades. Grades 5-8 had the highest percentage of repeat peers (80-100%), while high schools had more mixing of students and more multiple teachers teaching the same subject. Repeaters are more likely to be white and more likely to have lower economic positions (smaller, low-income, rural schools are more likely to repeat student/teacher matches).

Wedenoja concluded that having a repeat teacher improves both reading and math scores across all grades. In high school, repeat student-teacher matches decrease absences, lower truancy, and lessen disciplinary incidents. In grades 3-8, having a repeat teacher in one subject also improves scores in other subjects, and there is some evidence of improved non-cognitive skills in elementary and middle school. The results control for quality and experience of the repeat teacher, and Wedenoja believes that this is evidence that repeat student-teacher matches in middle and high school contribute to students' engagement in school. Placing students with repeat teachers is another policy lever to improve achievement, as even a single repeat teacher improves attendance for all classes. Wedenoja did note during the Q&A that repeating student-teacher interactions only tend to show positive benefits in a teachers’ third year or more of teaching compared to teachers with 0-2 years of experience. Yet a repeat student-teacher match is helpful even for the bottom 25% of performing teachers.