Teacher Support | Research

2-Year Induction Process Can Boost Student Achievement, Study Concludes

In a study that is not without some controversy, researchers found that one form of mentoring for new elementary teachers, 'comprehensive induction,' can have a significant, positive impact on student achievement, while at the same time failing to improve teacher retention.

Intensive, structured, instruction-focused mentoring by experienced educators over a two-year period can have a significant long-term positive impact on an elementary school teacher's ability to improve his or her students' achievement levels. This is the key finding of a study of programs offering such mentoring, known as "comprehensive induction," conducted by Mathematica Policy Research for the United States Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (IES).

Using as its subjects 1,009 elementary school teachers in 17 medium and large urban school districts in the United States that offer teacher induction programs, Mathematica examined, in each district, the prevailing induction program, usually lasting one year or less and entailing a more casual mentoring process, and an experimental, or "treatment," program, which involved a much more intensive and structured mentoring process, referred to as "comprehensive induction." In 10 of the districts the experimental program lasted one year, and in the other seven it lasted two years. The examination tools included longitudinal surveys of the teachers themselves, in-class observation by researchers, and student test scores.

There were four major findings.

  1. Comprehensive induction, whether for one or two years, did not have a discernible positive impact on teacher attitudes or retention of teachers.
  2. One year of comprehensive induction did not produce an impact on student achievement.
  3. Two years of comprehensive induction did not result in an impact on student achievement during the first two years of teaching.
  4. In the third year of teaching, the two-year course led to statistically significant results, with students of teachers in the two-year group averaging a 4 percentile point increase in reading and an 8 percentile point increase in math.

Steven Glazerman, a senior researcher at Mathematica and principal investigator and author on the study, said he hopes it will shed light on what schools are doing, sometimes even independently of their financially challenged districts, to bring new teachers into the fold by giving them an understanding of their environments and goals. Additionally, he said, he thinks it will raise critical questions about induction, specifically, how intensive and how structured should such programs be, and how long should they last?

The New Teacher Center (NTC), a nonprofit specifically dedicated to mentoring and induction as methods of effectively accelerating teacher effectiveness, worked with Mathematica on the implementation of the study in nine of the 17 districts.

Liam Goldrick, director of policy for NTC, said that while the study provided valuable overall insights into the impact of comprehensive induction, his group had some issues with how it was conducted, most notably that in some of the districts the induction program was only offered for a single year.

NTC, he said, has worked with districts in various parts of the country developing induction programs, and he said the standard practice was to provide intensive, structured mentoring for two years at the absolute minimum, which gives the relationship between the mentor and the new teacher time to develop, building both trust and the teacher's understanding of the growth process and the knowledge and insight required to become a truly effective educator.

Another issue, said Goldrick, was the relatively narrow field of candidates to become mentors in the study. He said NTC is used to having as many as seven or eight candidates for every mentoring position, allowing a more thorough process for selecting the best mentors overall and to match with each teacher in the program, in terms of general teaching background, specific experiences, personality, insights, etc. The programs participating in the study, he said, had far fewer candidates, in some cases only three or four for two vacancies.

Finally, NTC raised an issue regarding the research method itself, questioning just how well the study reflects real-world conditions. "In our experience in the districts we go into, we've never seen the intensity of support that existed in the control groups in this study," Goldrick said, noting that these groups were meant to represent the existing circumstances against which the theories on the effects of comprehensive induction were being compared. "Why was the control group given such high levels of induction input?"

Glazerman indicated that the finding concerning teacher retention may have caused some consternation for NTC, which has advocated comprehensive induction as an important factor in retention as well as student achievement. "Any district thinking about comprehensive induction should think about whether retention is the problem they're trying to solve," Glazerman advised. "If the greatest concern is retention, then the results of our study suggest that they should look for alternatives."

The NTC was indeed somewhat surprised by the finding on teacher retention, Goldrick said, adding that he and his colleagues will be examining the study more closely and looking at the various factors, especially working environment, that often impact retention but may not have been considered here. A formal NTC statement in response to the study elaborated on the group's views.

The complete final report submitted to IES, including detailed methodology and data findings, on the study and its results, entitled "Impacts of Comprehensive Teacher Induction: Final Results from a Randomized Controlled Study," is available here.

About the Author

Scott Aronowitz is a freelance writer based in Las Vegas. He has covered the technology, advertising, and entertainment sectors for seven years. He can be reached here.