What does preservice teacher quality tell us about entry and retention in the profession?

Robert Vagi Margarita Pivovarova, and Wendy Miedel Barnard:

Recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers has been a long-standing policy issue as states work to alleviate chronic teacher shortages as well as close achievement gaps. Importantly, evidence points to teacher quality as the most important school-based factor that affects student achievement. Unfortunately, it is often difficult for school and district leadership to identify high-quality teachers who will remain in the classroom, especially among those who are just entering the profession and in the first years of employment.

While the vast majority of teachers in the U.S. enter the profession upon receiving roughly four years of traditional university-based training, research that links preservice teacher experiences to their performance and retention once they are in the labor force is lacking. This overlooks the fact that much of our country’s investment in improving teacher quality happens during teachers’ preservice training. Moreover, recent evidence suggests that the context of a student’s preservice teaching is associated with important consequences for their later employment outcomes.

Our recent study adds to a small but growing body of literature that uses data from teachers’ preservice training to better understand how they fare in the classroom after graduation. We were interested in whether a measure of preservice teacher quality could predict entry and retention in the profession. Our data included over 1,100 graduates of a teacher preparation program housed at a large, state university. In addition to having information collected by the university, we were able to track these graduates’ employment using data from the state department of education. Students enrolled in this program complete a year-long student teaching residency that enables them to enter the labor force with the professional experience of a second-year teacher. During the residency, student teachers receive four formal observations by university-trained coaches who assign them evidence-based scores that are later combined into an overall score of effectiveness. This comprehensive score is based on several indicators including student teachers’ instructional and professional practices. Student teachers are expected to respond to their coach’s feedback after each observation and demonstrate improvement over time. We used the score from preservice teachers’ final assessments as an indicator of overall quality and readiness to enter the profession.

Related: NCTQ.