The highly wonky debate around whether “super subgroups,”—which combine smaller subgroups, like multiple racial minorities—actually meet the requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act isn’t that exhilarating. But a recent study from George Washington University’s Matthew Shirrell suggests that these are far from humdrum decisions. How student subgroups are defined can impact key teacher outcomes.
The study examines the effects of NCLB-style subgroup accountability on teacher turnover and attrition. Recall that the No Child Left Behind Act required that schools make yearly improvement, not only in overall student achievement, but in the achievement of various subgroups. The study explores whether holding elementary school educators accountable for the performance of white and black students affected the likelihood that these teachers would leave their schools or leave teaching altogether.
Shirrell examines the initial year that subgroup accountability was implemented in North Carolina, using data from 1999–2000 (before NCLB was implemented in 2002–03) through 2003–04, and tracking teacher outcomes one and two years afterwards. He uses demographic data on every public school elementary teacher in the state, though he limits the study to black and white teachers because they comprise the vast majority of elementary school teachers (14 percent and 84 percent, respectively). North Carolina had a state minimum subgroup size of forty; schools with forty students in a particular subgroup were held accountable for those kids’ academic performance, and those with fewer than forty students were not. Thus, the study can make use of a regression discontinuity design, whereby one can examine outcomes for schools right near the cutoff, with the idea that schools with thirty-nine tested students are otherwise similar to schools with forty tested students, except for the subgroup accountability component. (Since the Tarheel State already had a strong state-level accountability system prior to NCLB, the counterfactual is essentially that strong system without the subgroup requirement.) Shirrell also conducted various empirical checks to ensure that schools did not manipulate the number of tested black or white students in NCLB’s first year, nor did teachers sort themselves on one side of the cutoff or the other.
A key finding is that subgroup-specific accountability for black and white subgroups had no overall effects on teacher turnover or attrition from the profession. Separate analyses by teacher race, however, revealed that it had a significant impact on the likelihood that black teachers remained or left teaching in North Carolina. Specifically, black teachers who taught in schools that were held accountable for the performance of black students were much less likely to leave teaching than were black teachers who taught in schools not held accountable for that subgroup.
However, black subgroup accountability did not affect the likelihood that white teachers left or remained in teaching. Moreover, accountability for the white student subgroup had no effects on either black or white teachers. Results for teacher turnover (meaning leaving the school versus leaving teaching) showed a similar pattern as those for black teacher attrition.
Shirrell speculates that, “Seeing that the black students ‘counted’ in their schools, and that their schools were taking action to address the achievement gap between black and white students, may have caused black teachers to remain in teaching that might otherwise have left. In below-cutoff schools black teachers might have been discouraged by their schools falling just short of the cutoffs and chosen to leave teaching.” Seems plausible enough.
What’s not addressed is whether grouping students on achievement—such as the lowest-performing 25 percent of students in a school (regardless of their race, income, or disability status)—would have similar effects on teacher turnover and attrition. States such as Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Florida might especially like to know the answer to that super-sized question.
SOURCE: Matthew Shirrell, “The Effects of Subgroup-Specific Accountability on Teacher Turnover and Attrition,” Education Finance and Policy (Forthcoming).