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Ask a REL Response

Teaching quality — April 2021


Could you provide research on the elements of teaching quality related to student outcomes?


Following an established REL West research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and resources on the elements of teaching quality related to student outcomes. The sources we searched included ERIC, Google Scholar, and PsychInfo. (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. Also, we searched for references through the most commonly used sources of research, but the list is not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. Access to the full articles is free unless indicated otherwise.

Research References

Coe, R., Rauch, C. J., Kime, S., & Singleton, D. (2020). Great teaching toolkit: Evidence review. Evidence-Based Education. Full text available from

From the executive summary: “We have reviewed existing research studies and frameworks that are relevant to the components and routes to improvement of teacher effectiveness. Our aim is to help teachers make better decisions about what they can best do to improve their effectiveness. In summary, we have identified four priorities for teachers who want to help their student learn more: 1) understand the content they are teaching and how it is learnt 2) create a supportive environment for learning 3) manage the classroom to maximise the opportunity to learn 4) present content, activities and interactions that activate their students’ thinking. We present a model that comprises these four overarching dimensions, with a total of 17 elements within them. An ‘element’ is defined as something that may be worth investing time and effort to work on to build a specific competency, skill or knowledge, or to enhance the learning environment. There is no implication that the complexity of teaching can be reduced to a set of techniques, but evidence suggests the best route to expertise is likely to involve a focus on developing competencies, guided by formative feedback in a supportive professional learning environment. This review is the first stage of an ambitious wider project to create a ‘Toolkit’ that will:

  • personalise the curriculum for teacher learning (according to ages and subjects taught, school context and student characteristics, current profile of expertise, etc.)
  • develop systems and instruments to provide formative, actionable feedback that helps teachers to focus their learning, evaluate their impact and track their professional growth
  • coordinate networks for peer and expert support to generate, share and apply evidence about the most effective ways to improve.”

Darling Hammond, L. (2011). Quality teaching: What is quality teaching and how can it be measured? Stanford University. Presentation available from

Darling-Hammond, L., Cook, C., Jaquith, A., & Hamilton, M. (2012). Creating a comprehensive system for evaluating and supporting effective teaching. Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. Full text available from

From the abstract: “Virtually everyone agrees that teacher evaluation in the United States needs an overhaul. Existing systems rarely help teachers improve or clearly distinguish those who are succeeding from those who are struggling. The tools that are used do not always represent the important features of good teaching. Criteria and methods for evaluating teachers vary substantially across districts and at key career milestones—when teachers complete pre-service teacher education, become initially licensed, are considered for tenure, and receive a professional license. A comprehensive system should address these purposes in a coherent way and provide support for supervision and professional learning, identify teachers who need additional assistance and—in some cases—a change of career, and recognize expert teachers who can contribute to the learning of their peers. This report outlines an integrated approach that connects these goals to a teaching-career continuum and a professional development system that supports effectiveness for all teachers at every stage of their careers.”

REL West note: See page 3: “Research on teacher effectiveness, based on teacher ratings and student achievement gains, has found the following qualities important:

  • strong general intelligence and verbal ability that help teachers organize and explain ideas, as well as to observe and think diagnostically;
  • strong content knowledge—up to a threshold level that relates to what is to be taught;
  • knowledge of how to teach others in that area (content pedagogy), in particular how to use hands-on learning techniques (e.g., lab work in science and manipulatives in mathematics) and how to develop higher-order thinking skills;
  • an understanding of learners and their learning and development—including how to assess and scaffold learning, how to support students who have learning differences or difficulties, and how to support the learning of language and content for those who are not already proficient in the language of instruction;
  • adaptive expertise that allow teachers to make judgments about what is likely to work in a given context in response to students’ needs.”

Donley, J. (2019). Effective practices: Research briefs and evidence ratings. Center on Innovations in Learning, Temple University. Full text available from

From the abstract: “The Center on Innovations in Learning (CIL) is a national content center established to work with regional comprehensive centers and state education agencies (SEA) to build SEAs’ capacity to stimulate, select, implement, and scale up innovation in learning. This report is a collection of evidence ratings and practice briefs. The categories for both the Evidence Base and Effect Size Rating for Effective Practices and the Effective Practice Briefs are: (1) School Leadership and Decision-Making; (2) Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction Planning; (3) Classroom Instruction; (4) Personalized Learning: Digital Learning; (5) Personalized Learning: Blended Learning; (6) Personalized Learning: Cognitive Competency; (7) Personalized Learning: Metacognitive Competency; (8) Personalized Learning: Motivational Competency; (9) Personalized Learning: Social/Emotional Competency; (10) Family Engagement in a School Community; (11) Preschool Early Learning; (12) High School: Leadership and Decision-Making; (13) High School: Opportunity to Learn; and (14) District Support for School Success.”

Goe, L. (2008). The link between teacher quality and student outcomes: A research synthesis. National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality. Full text available from

From the abstract: “Federal law emphasizes the need for states and districts to ensure that ‘all’ students—particularly at-risk students, minority students, and students in high-poverty areas—have access to highly qualified, experienced teachers. But is it sufficient for a teacher to have ‘paper’ qualifications and teaching experience? After all, appropriate degrees, certification, and experience may be important at a minimum, but do they guarantee quality teaching? This synthesis of the research on teachers and their contribution to student achievement found that a number of studies cite a few areas of teacher quality in which research shows convincingly what matters, whereas the inconsistency of other findings indicates that much is still to be learned. Organized using a framework of inputs, processes, and outcomes, this synthesis is a ‘one-stop shop’ for researchers and policymakers interested in the science behind claims about the link between teacher quality and student academic achievement. Appended are: (1) Teacher Quality Variables Utilized; (2) Data Sources Used to Define Teacher Quality; (3) Summary Table of Studies Examined; and (4) Further Discussion of Effect Sizes.”

Hightower, A. M., Delgado, R. C., Lloyd, S. C., Wittenstein, R., Sellers, K., & Swanson, C. B. (2011). Improving student learning by supporting quality teaching: Key issues, effective strategies. Editorial Projects in Education, Inc. Full text available from

From the overview: “This report summarizes the state of research on teaching quality, the links to student learning, and the contextual factors that play an intermediating role in teaching and learning. These findings are complemented by an overview of promising strategies for improving teaching quality. [To provide] relevant insights for improving practice and policy, this report intentionally concentrates on the more concrete and actionable aspects of teaching quality and instruction rather than relatively subjective and intangible factors like teacher dispositions. This focus leads us to literature in both the K–12 system and the early-childhood arena that discusses teacher professional qualifications, models to improve and gauge quality instruction, and examples from the field.”

Stecher, B. M., Garet, M. S., Hamilton, L. S., Steiner, E. D., Robyn, A., Poirier, J., Holtzman, D., Fulbeck, E. S., Chambers, J., & de los Reyes, I. B. (2016). Improving teaching effectiveness: Implementation. The Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching through 2013-2014. RAND Corporation. Full text available from

From the abstract: “To improve the U.S. education system through more-effective classroom teaching, in school year 2009–2010, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced four Intensive Partnership for Effective Teaching sites. The Intensive Partnerships Initiative is based on the premise that efforts to improve instruction can benefit from high-quality measures of teaching effectiveness. The initiative seeks to determine whether a school can implement a high-quality measure of teaching effectiveness and use it to support and manage teachers in ways that improve student outcomes. This approach is consistent with broader national trends in which performance-based teacher evaluation is increasingly being mandated at state and local levels. To test the theory in practice, the foundation sought partnership sites. It selected three school districts—Hillsborough County Public Schools in Florida, Shelby County Schools in Tennessee, and Pittsburgh Public Schools in Pennsylvania. The foundation also selected four charter management organizations—Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, Aspire Public Schools, Green Dot Public Schools, and the Partnerships to Uplift Communities, all in California. To evaluate Intensive Partnership implementation, researchers from the RAND Corporation and the American Institutes for Research interviewed annually central office staff at each site and teachers and other staff in a sample of schools for each site. They also used data from annual teacher and school-leader surveys and documents that the sites and the foundation provided. This report summarizes the implementation status of key reform elements at each site when the Intensive Partnerships initiative launched and five years later in the spring of 2014.”

Stosich, E. L., & Bristol, T. J. (2018). Advancing a new focus on teaching quality: A critical synthesis. Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. Full text available from

From the abstract: “Quality teaching depends on a wide array of personal and contextual factors. An emerging and substantial body of literature has reframed the focus on teaching quality by examining how teachers’ abilities to influence student achievement change over the course of their career and how these changes are influenced by the context in which they work. This series of studies suggests that teachers continue to grow more effective in supporting important student outcomes—academic performance, attendance, reading behaviors—long after their first few years in the classroom and that teachers improve at greater rates when they work in supportive school conditions, including schools with opportunities for collaboration with colleagues and strong principal leadership. The authors urge state leaders to revisit and to rethink their approach to teacher policy under ESSA. They argue that a large and growing body of research suggests that attention to teaching quality—the ability of teachers to support meaningful learning among students—is a promising approach for improving the quality and equity of educational opportunities in public schools. Policies focused on improving teaching quality attend to the conditions, resources, collaborative learning opportunities, and support from leadership that can accelerate the developmental trajectory of teachers and, in doing so, foster improvement among the teaching force broadly.”

Stronge, J. H. (2018). Qualities of effective teachers, 3rd Edition. ASCD. Full text available from

From the abstract: “Every teacher seeks to be an ‘effective’ teacher. Every teacher wants to have a positive, remarkable, and lasting influence on students’ lives. But what makes for an effective teacher? What role does teacher preparation play in teacher effectiveness? What do effective teachers do during planning, instruction, and assessment? How do they create a learning environment that engages and supports students? And how do effective teachers interact with their students to promote the best opportunities and results for all? In ‘Qualities of Effective Teachers,’ 3rd edition, James H. Stronge explores these questions and more as he synthesizes the literature on teacher effectiveness. The result? A research-based framework for effective teaching that addresses: (1) Professional knowledge; (2) Instructional planning; (3) Instructional delivery; (4) Assessment; (5) Learning environment; and (6) Professionalism. Stronge also examines characteristics of effective teachers of at-risk students and high-ability students. To bridge the gap between research and practice, he includes checklists of skills and positive qualities associated with effective teacher performance as well as red flags that indicate that teachers may not be reaching their full potential in the classroom. This resource is for any educator interested in improving teaching. It offers research-based advice for teachers who wish to improve their own performance, as well guidance for teacher leaders and supervisors, school administrators and department heads, staff development specialists, teacher and administrator educators, human resource specialists, and education policymakers and their staffs. Anyone who has a vested interest in students and their success can gain valuable insight and practical tools to ensure positive outcomes for all students.


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used:

[(“Teaching quality” OR “effective teaching” OR “successful teaching”) AND (elements OR components OR features) AND (“student outcomes” OR “student achievement” OR “outcomes”)]

Databases and Resources

We searched Google Scholar and ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When searching and selecting resources to include, we consider the criteria listed below.

  • Date of the Publication: References and resources published within the last 15 years, from 2006 to present, were included in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations and academic databases. Priority is also given to sources that provide free access to the full article.
  • Methodology: Priority is given to the most rigorous study designs, such as randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs, and we may also include descriptive data analyses, survey results, mixed-methods studies, literature reviews, or meta-analyses. Other considerations include the target population and sample, including their relevance to the question, generalizability, and general quality. Priority is given to publications that are peer-reviewed journal articles or reports reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations. If there are many research reports available, we select those with the strongest methodology, or the most recent of similar reports. When there are fewer resources available, we may include a broader range of information. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the West Region (Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory West at WestEd. This memorandum was prepared by REL West under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0012, administered by WestEd. 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.