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Understanding Differences in Instructional Quality Between High and Lower Value-Added Schools in a Large Urban District


by Thomas M. Smith, Courtney Preston, Katherine Taylor Haynes & Laura Neergaard Booker — 2015

Background/Context: High schools are under increasing pressure to move beyond just graduating students, and many high schools today continue to have low rates of student retention and learning, particularly for students from traditionally low-performing subgroups. Differential dropout rates, wherein low-income students, minorities, and English language learners leave school at higher rates than other students, only compound the problem.

Purpose/Objective: In this study, we examine differences in instructional quality between two higher and two lower value-added high schools, as measured by the Classroom Assessment Scoring System – Secondary (CLASS-S). It explores (a) differences in levels of instructional quality, (b) differences in the proportions of students taking advanced courses, and (c) differences in the way teachers think and talk about their classroom challenges.

Research Design: This is a mixed methods study that combines data from classroom observation protocols with teacher interview data. We use multilevel statistical models to address the first two research questions and emergent, inductive coding to determine commonalities within schools in how teachers implement higher-quality instructional practices.

Findings/Results: We find that the average difference in instructional quality, as measured by the CLASS-S, was not very wide across our four case study schools and that the biggest differences were between the two higher value-added high schools. Our interview data suggest that teachers in the two higher value-added schools are more proactive about providing emotional support and preventing behavioral problems, and intentional about attending to content and engaging students in higher-order thinking.

Conclusions/Recommendations: The lack of variation in classroom instructional practice across schools also suggests the need to attend to the ways that schools support academic learning outside of the classroom. Qualitative findings signal that the quality of classroom instruction is not the only critical input to students’ learning gains when trying to identify what leads schools to place highly in value-added rankings.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 117 Number 11, 2015, p. 1-38
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 18110, Date Accessed: 11/24/2017 9:12:06 PM

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About the Author
  • Thomas Smith
    University of California, Riverside
    E-mail Author
    THOMAS M. SMITH is Dean and Professor, Graduate School of Education, University of California, Riverside and Executive Director of the National Center on Scaling Up Effective Schools. His research focuses on how leadership and policy influence teaching and learning.
  • Courtney Preston
    Florida State University
    E-mail Author
    COURTNEY PRESTON is an assistant professor of Education Leadership and Policy Studies at Florida State University. Her research interests include teacher quality, specifically teacher preparation, retention, and development, and school leader preparation and development.
  • Katherine Haynes
    Vanderbilt University
    E-mail Author
    KATHERINE TAYLOR YANES is a research associate at the National Center for Scaling Up Effective Schools at Vanderbilt University. Her recent research focuses on the social context of education and public policy, with specific emphasis on the characteristics of effective schools, the implementation of district designed school innovations, and new teacher induction policies.
  • Laura Neergaard Booker
    Tennessee Department of Education
    E-mail Author
    LAURA NEERGAARD BOOKER is a Policy Analyst at the Tennessee Department of Education. Her research focuses on teaching quality and supporting beginning teachers. Recently, she published evaluations of Tennessee’s statewide Common Core teacher trainings and of the state’s retention its most effective teachers.
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