Student Content Engagement as a Construct for the Measurement of Effective Classroom Instruction and Teacher Knowledge

The effort to link statistically student achievement to measures of teaching or teachers has proven very difficult. Analysts generally agree that the impacts of effective teachers on student achievement are important (Mayer, Mullens, & Moore, 2000; Hanushek, Kain, & Rivkin, 2001; Sanders & Rivers, 1996).1 The problem for analysts has been in identifying the characteristics of high quality teaching or teachers. Analysts have been able to estimate the size of the impact of teacher quality, through methods that isolate the impact of having one teacher compared with another teacher. But they have been less successful in isolating what it is about higher quality teachers or instruction that produces these effects.

A stumbling block in the effort to identify key aspects of teachers and teaching has been the lack of adequate measures of potentially important characteristics of teaching and teachers (see for reviews of measures of instruction Burstein et al., 1995; Mayer, 1999; Mullens, 1995; Mullens & Gayler, 1999). In the absence of appropriate measures analysts are left using whatever measures are available to them and labeling the measures as proxies for potentially important characteristics of teaching or teachers. It is not surprising, then, that analysts have struggled to link characteristics of teachers or teaching to student achievement.

Much of the analysis of extant survey measures of instruction has focused on reliability and validity (including generalizability) issues associated with asking teachers to self-report on something as complex and sensitive as instruction (see, for instance, Lanahan, Scotchmer, & McLaughlin, 2004). Less attention has been devoted to concerns about what actually are important things on which to survey teachers. Important work remains in mapping out for survey designers the topics that warrant investigation. Although the research is thin on what is important about teaching and teachers, there have been many decades of basic research on how people learn and there is accumulating research on appropriate instructional methods for specific subject matter.

This paper presents a framework that divides characteristics of teaching and teachers into four categories representing elements that research on learning suggests need to be in place in order for students to learn. The framework is intended for use in helping to develop and organize survey or observational measures of teaching and other measures of teacher characteristics, such as teacher knowledge

1 The impact of good teaching over one school year may be relatively small, but the cumulative effect could be large. A 1 standard deviation difference in teacher quality is likely to produce an impact on students on the order of 0.1 standard deviation of the distribution of all students’ test scores on a given subject (Hanushek, Kain, & Rivkin, 2001; Rowan, Correnti, & Miller, 2002). This effect is generally considered a small effect (Cohen, 1988). However, the cumulative effect of higher quality teaching over the 13 years of mandatory schooling would be more than 1 standard deviation—a very large effect.