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Breaking the link between disadvantage and development

Breaking the link between disadvantage and development

Research 4 minute read

A wealth of research on teaching quality exists but it remains largely unused by those who could benefit most from its findings – teachers. Are there ways to better translate the findings from research? Dan Cloney explains.

Breaking the link between disadvantage and development

There is compelling evidence that high-quality early childhood education and care (ECEC) programs can narrow achievement gaps attributed to social inequality. However, the everyday ECEC market does not appear to be delivering on the potential of early education programs to close these gaps. The need to continually improve the quality of ECEC programs may be obvious, but less clear is how this quality improvement can be achieved in a way that will deliver the best start in life for all children.

Measures of quality in education are common and describe a relationship between certain factors and student outcomes. Governments have developed complex measures of quality to regulate and improve education systems. Researchers have developed measures of quality to investigate the causes of development outcomes. Rarely, though, do educators – the people closest to the action – use these measures to improve their teaching practices. This is because measures of quality used in large studies require high degrees of training to conduct and the interpretation of quantitative results are complex. But there may be better ways for educators to engage with the results of large-scale psychometric analysis to improve their practice.

The Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) is a popular measure of interaction quality. This aspect of quality is a growing area of interest because interactions between educators and students are proximal to learning outcomes and can provide information about what actually works. Recent psychometric studies have focused on validating the measure and producing a rigorous continuum of quality describing instruction from low to high. Applying the results of this statistical modelling in a non-technical way can provide opportunities for educators to locate their and their peers’ practice. Identifying the practices on the continuum that are just above their current level of practice provides feedback about the kind of behaviours that they need to demonstrate to lift their effectiveness and positively affect student learning.

Why measure teacher effectiveness and not just outcomes?

‘Success’ or ‘failure’ in the education system has traditionally been measured by comparing student outcomes with set standards at various school grades or ages. There are serious limitations to this method.

Research shows that children from advantaged backgrounds tend to get access to higher quality teaching, as well as higher quality investments in their learning and development from other sources; for example, higher quality home learning environments. Using student outcomes alone as a measure of success not only fails to account for the many other variables at play but treats pedagogy as an unobserved phenomenon, yielding no useful information about what effective teachers do to produce better student results.

Measuring teaching quality produces evidence not just about what practices work, but also on what those practices look like in action.

Why does this matter?

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 4.1 and 4.2 represents a global focus on improving access to high quality education to ensure all children have the best start in life. Exposure to high quality learning early has a lifelong impact. The ACER Centre for Global Education Monitoring is committed to supporting all countries to achieve SDG 4.1. and 4.2.

While a huge body of quantitative research into educator-student interactions exists, much of it exhibits psychometric limitations and little of it is applied to the professional learning and development of the people who would find it the most useful – teachers. Finding ways to better leverage this research will help educators make effective and impactful improvements to teaching practices and help ECEC programs to achieve their potential to narrow the gaps created by social inequality.

Find out more:
Dr Cloney will be speaking in more detail about breaking the link between disadvantage and development in early childhood at Research Conference 2018 in August.