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Comparing the Effectiveness of Early and Upper Elementary Teachers in Tennessee

This brief examines whether Tennessee schools are distributing teacher quality equitably across the Pre-K and elementary grades. By looking at patterns in teacher reassignment and development of teacher effectiveness throughout their careers, researchers find that low-performing upper elementary teachers (grades 3-5) are more likely to be reassigned to a lower elementary grade (Pre-K-2) in the following year than their more effective peers. This finding suggests that some Tennessee principals may be strategically reassigning their lowest-performing teachers in grades 3-5 to earlier grades which are not required to administer standardized tests. 


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Key Findings

Teacher improvement   

  • Lower elementary grade teachers are significantly more likely than upper elementary school teachers to hold early elementary endorsement. Both groups of teachers have similar levels of teaching experience and master's degree attainment.  

  • Average observation scores across elementary school grades have increased over time, yet upper elementary school teachers have consistently earned higher scores than lower elementary school teachers. 

  • With few exceptions, upper elementary teachers tend to score higher, on average, than similarly experienced lower elementary teachers. 

  • Low-performing upper elementary teachers are significantly more likely to be reassigned to a lower elementary grade the following year than their more effective peers, though the overall impact is small.

This analysis compares the effectiveness of lower and upper elementary school teachers using longitudinal Tennessee data on Pre-K to Grade 5 students and teachers between 2005-06 to 2015-16. Teacher "reassignment" is defined as teachers who stay in the same school but teach a different grade between two adjacent years. This analysis makes use of both cross-sectional and within-school comparisons.