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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response

Teacher Preparation

August 2017


What does the research tell us about the relationship between teacher licensure/credentialing or teacher performance on content examinations/licensure tests and student outcomes?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports, descriptive studies and literature reviews on the relationships between teacher licensure or teacher performance on content licensure exams and student outcomes. In particular, we focused on identifying resources related to student achievement, student attendance and student social emotional learning. For details on the databases and sources, keywords and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. We have not evaluated the quality of references and resources provided in this response, but offer this list to you for your information only.

Research References

Clotfelter, C. T., Ladd, H. F., & Vigdor, J. L. (2007). Teacher credentials and student achievement in high school: A cross-subject analysis with student fixed effects (Working Paper 11). Washington, DC: National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, American Institutes for Research. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “We use data on statewide end-of-course tests in North Carolina to examine the relationship between teacher credentials and student achievement at the high school level. The availability of test scores in multiple subjects for each student permits us to estimate a model with student fixed effects, which helps minimize any bias associated with the non-random distribution of teachers and students among classrooms within schools. We find compelling evidence that teacher credentials affect student achievement in systematic ways and that the magnitudes are large enough to be policy relevant. As a result, the uneven distribution of teacher credentials by race and socio-economic status of high school students-a pattern we also document-contributes to achievement gaps in high school.”

Cowan, J., & Goldhaber, D. (2016). National Board certification and teacher effectiveness. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 9(3), 233-258. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “We study the effectiveness of teachers certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) in Washington State, which has one of the largest populations of National Board-Certified Teachers (NBCTs) in the nation. Based on value-added models in math and reading, we find that NBPTS-certified teachers are about 0.01-0.05 student standard deviations more effective than non-NBCTS with similar levels of experience. Certification effects vary by subject, grade level, and certification type, with greater effects for middle school math certificates. We find mixed evidence that teachers who pass the assessment are more effective than those who fail, but that the underlying NBPTS assessment score predicts student achievement.”

Goldhaber, D. (2007). Everyone’s doing it, but what does teacher testing tell us about teacher effectiveness? (Working Paper 9). Washington, DC: National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, American Institutes for Research. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This paper explores the relationship between teacher testing and teacher effectiveness using a unique dataset that links teachers to their individual students. My findings show a positive relationship between some teacher licensure tests and student achievement. But they also suggest that states face significant tradeoffs when they require particular performance levels as a precondition to becoming a teacher: Some teachers whom we might wish were not in the teacher workforce based on their contribution toward student achievement are eligible to teach based on their performance on these tests, while other individuals who would be effective teachers are ineligible.”

Goldhaber, D., Gratz, T., & Theobald, R. (2016). What’s in a teacher test? Assessing the relationship between teacher licensure test scores and student STEM achievement and course-taking (Working Paper 158). Washington, DC: National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, American Institutes for Research. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “We investigate the relationship between teacher licensure test scores and student test achievement and high school course-taking. We focus on three subject/grade combinations-middle school math, ninth-grade algebra and geometry, and ninth-grade biology-and find evidence that a teacher’s basic skills test scores are modestly predictive of student achievement in middle and high school math and highly predictive of student achievement in high school biology. A teacher’s subject-specific licensure test scores are a consistent and statistically significant predictor of student achievement only in high school biology. Finally, we find little evidence that students assigned to middle school teachers with higher basic-skills test scores are more likely to take advanced math and science courses in high school.”

Guarino, C. M., Hamilton, L. S., Lockwood, J. R., & Rathbun, A. H. (2006). Teacher qualifications, instructional practices, and reading and mathematics gains of kindergarteners. Research and development report (NCES 2006-031).Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “In this study, data from ECLS-K are used to estimate the degree to which specific aspects of teacher training—the teaching credential and coursework in pedagogy—and teaching experience are associated with student achievement. In addition, the study identifies the teacher-reported instructional practices associated with student achievement gains and examines the types of training that are related to the use of these practices. Specifically, the study addresses the following research questions: (1) To what extent are kindergarten teachers’ qualifications and instructional practices associated with gains in reading and mathematics of their students over the course of the kindergarten year?; and (2) How are the instructional practices of kindergarten teachers related to their qualifications?”

Leak, J. A., & Farkas, G. (2011). Effects of teacher credentials, coursework, and certification on student achievement in math and reading in kindergarten: An ECLS-K study. Paper presented at the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness Conference, Washington, DC. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “In light of the strong correlation between Kindergarten performance and later cognitive and achievement outcomes, this paper investigates the link between student achievement and the educational background characteristics of Kindergarten teachers. This study will utilize the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K), a nationally representative dataset, in order to address the following questions: (1) Does a teacher having a master’s degree or higher have a positive effect on student achievement gains in reading and math in kindergarten compared to teachers with only a bachelor’s degree?; (2) Are there effects of teacher coursework in reading, math, and child development on student achievement gains in kindergarten? If so, do impacts of coursework on reading and math scores vary by number of courses taken?; and (3) Do regular and highest certification levels for teachers have a different effect on student achievement gains than no certification or alternative certification? Does being certified as an early elementary school teacher matter for student achievement? … The findings of this study suggest that most teacher credentials, or degrees, appear to have little impact on student achievement in reading or math in Kindergarten with some small significant effects (See Tables 2 and 3). This is consistent with the findings of others (Darling-Hammond, Berry, & Thoreson, 2001; Goldhaber & Brewer 1997). However, some previous studies such as Clotfelter, Ladd, and Vigdor (2007a) actually found negative effects of high-level degrees on student achievement, which was not the case in this study. The quantity of teacher coursework had mixed effects on student achievement (See Table 4)…. Teacher certification also appears to have a mixed effect on student achievement (See Table 5) ….”

Manzeske, D., Park, S. J., Liu, F., Borman, T., Gnedko-Berry, N., West, B., & Deng, E. (2017). Effects of National Board certified teachers on student achievement and behavioral outcomes: Studies conducted in two states. Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The purpose of this work was to examine the effect of classroom teachers who earn certification as a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT) by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards on mathematics and reading achievement and behavioral outcomes (attendance and discipline referrals) for students in Grades 4 and 5. Two studies were conducted separately to examine the effect of NBCTs in North Carolina and Kentucky, which are two states with relatively high concentrations of NBCTs. In each study, propensity score matching was used to match students of NBCTs to similar students of non-NBCTs. Within each grade and within each study, propensity score matching yielded similar student groups (those taught by NBCTs and those not taught by NBCTs) on observed characteristics such as prior-year outcomes and demographics. For each grade level, the academic and behavioral outcomes of students of NBCTs were compared with the outcomes of the matched students taught by non-NBCTs. In North Carolina, there were no statistically significant student achievement differences at either grade between students of NBCTs and students of non-NBCTs. However, Grade 5 students of NBCTs had higher attendance rates than students of non-NBCTs by 0.02 standard deviations. There were no statistically significant effects on the likelihood of a student receiving an in-school or out-of-school suspension in North Carolina. In Kentucky, Grade 5 students taught by NBCTs scored higher than students of non-NBCTs on state student achievement in mathematics and reading by 0.06 standard deviations. There were no statistically significant differences in the behavioral outcomes between the student groups at either grade level in Kentucky.”

Stotsky, S. (2007). Teacher licensure tests: Their relationship to mathematics teachers’ academic competence and student achievement in mathematics. Fayetville, AR: Education Working Paper Archive. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Many educators choose to believe that learning to read and write is as natural as learning to listen and speak, even though scientifically based research does not support their belief. However, most educators (as well as the public) believe that most students must be taught mathematics to learn it. Moreover, there is a body of research evidence that attests to the positive relationship between students’ mathematics achievement and their teachers’ mathematics knowledge. Teachers who know more mathematics than their peers have students who learn more mathematics than their peers. Thus, state and federal officials, as well as the general public, are rightly concerned about the academic qualifications of those who teach mathematics (and science) in the public schools, especially since there has been a steady decline for decades in the number of mathematics and science majors or minors choosing secondary school teaching careers. There has also been a steady decline in the number of high-achieving women seeking to become elementary teachers or teachers of other subjects. About two decades ago, in an effort to ensure that their teachers had an adequate grasp of the field of their license before they began teaching, states began to require the passing of a subject matter licensure test for entry into the profession. Licensure tests—typically tests assessing the basic substantive knowledge needed for professional practice—are the major objective measure of quality control used by most professions for entry into the profession. By default, licensure tests have determined what new teachers in elementary, middle, and high school need to know in mathematics in order to teach the subject. They have also influenced how new teachers taught mathematics if they or other required tests contained pedagogical items. However, people lack a critical summary of the research on the content, value, and uses of teacher licensure tests. A small but growing number of studies have examined the content or value of teacher licensure tests and their relationship to student achievement. The purpose of this paper is to indicate what can be learned from these studies, especially those that examine the content or use of teacher tests assessing mathematics knowledge, and to highlight a number of questions that warrant research if these tests are to serve the same function that licensure tests serve other professions.”

Winters, M. (2011). Measuring teacher effectiveness: Credentials unrelated to student achievement. New York, NY: Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Given the challenges facing American public education today, identifying effective teachers is a more vital task than ever before. In the U.S. public school system today, the method used to determine teacher effectiveness—and thus to drive salary, promotion, and tenure decisions—is based on a few external credentials: certification, advanced degrees, and years of experience in the classroom. Yet according to a new analysis of student performance in Florida that two colleagues and the author conducted, little to no relationship exists between these credentials and the gains that a teacher’s students make on standardized math and reading exams. The expansive study included all test-taking public elementary school students in the state of Florida over a period of four years. This study, to be published in the peer-reviewed journal Economics of Education Review, builds on two decades of research from a variety of school systems and confirms a consistent finding: External teacher credentials tell next to nothing about how well a teacher will perform in the classroom.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

Center on Great Teachers and Leaders at American Institutes for Research: –

From the website: “The Center on Great Teachers and Leaders (GTL Center) is dedicated to supporting state education leaders in their efforts to grow, respect, and retain great teachers and leaders for all students. The GTL Center continues the work of the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality (TQ Center) and expands its focus to provide technical assistance and online resources designed to build systems that:

  • Support the implementation of college and career standards.
  • Ensure the equitable access of effective teachers and leaders.
  • Recruit, retain, reward, and support effective educators.
  • Develop coherent human capital management systems.
  • Create safe academic environments that increase student learning through positive behavior management and appropriate discipline.
  • Use data to guide professional development and improve instruction.”

National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ): –

From the website: “The National Council on Teacher Quality is led by this vision: every child deserves effective teachers and every teacher deserves the opportunity to become effective.”

For far too many children and teachers, this vision is not the reality. That’s because all too often the policies and practices of those institutions with the most authority and influence over teachers and schools–45;be they state governments, teacher preparation programs, school districts, or teachers unions–fall short. NCTQ focuses on the changes these institutions must make to return the teaching profession to strong health, delivering to every child the education needed to ensure a bright and successful future.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Teacher licensure student outcomes

  • Teacher credentials “student achievement”

  • Teacher licensure student outcomes

  • Teacher licensure student attendance

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES).

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2002 to present, were include in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Region) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.