Tennessee has been a national leader in supporting efforts to ensure all students are taught by a highly effective teacher. These efforts are driven by broad research demonstrating the impact of teachers on student outcomes. While the narrative traditionally assumes teacher effectiveness is a fixed characteristic, emerging research demonstrates that Tennessee’s efforts to improve the effectiveness of teachers across the continuum, including those already working in our classrooms, is paying dividends.

Those findings come from the Tennessee Education Research Alliance (TERA) in its recently released brief Exploring Teacher Improvement in Tennessee: Evidence from TERA. Here are other key points from the report:

Teachers improve over the course of their careers across subjects and effectiveness measures. Teachers improve at a more rapid pace during the first few years of their career, with teachers, on average, rising from the 36th to the 54th percentile in their first three years in the classroom. And while this growth is more pronounced earlier in their careers, teachers continue to improve throughout their careers, with between 20 and 30 percent of a teacher’s overall improvement occurring during the 5th and 25th year of teaching.

Teacher improvement varies by district and school. While all teachers, on average, improve their craft over time, those improvements are not equally distributed across districts and schools. In fact, almost half of all variation in teacher improvement has nothing to do with the teachers themselves, but the school in which they teach.

Teacher improvement is similar in higher-poverty and lower-poverty schools. The overall growth for teachers does not vary based on whether they teach in a high- or low-poverty school; however, there are slightly steeper improvements for math teachers in high-poverty schools.

Teacher improvement is steeper in recent years. Teacher improvement has been more rapid from 2013 to 2015 compared to 2008 to 2010. These improvements are faster and sustained in all subjects except math.

SCORE’s 2017 report, Excellence For All: How Tennessee Can Lift Our Students To Best In The Nation, laid forth a bold vision that aligns well with the brief’s findings. For starters, first-year teachers enter the profession at different readiness levels. Therefore, recruiting high-potential candidates and preparing them well for the classroom sets up first-year teachers for success. Second, once they arrive, the supports teachers receive their first few years are critical to accelerating their growth. And last, while not explicitly covered in the brief, it is important that we honor the profession through pay, continued support, and leadership opportunities.

Looking ahead, I’m excited to see continued research into many of the questions that this brief examines, from the impact of teacher preparation to teacher improvement and reasons for improvement differences between districts and schools.

To learn more and hear directly from the researchers, please listen to the TERA podcast discussing the findings.