The Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University


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Instructional Quality

"There is growing evidence that students are most motivated when teachers are strong on all three legs of the instructional tripod: content knowledge, pedagogic skills, and relationship skills...Teachers differ a great deal in their effectiveness. The evidence is clear that some teachers produce much larger achievement gains than others do and that differences in teacher effectiveness tend to persist from year to year in the absence of effective professional development." Toward Excellence with Equity, 2007, Ronald Ferguson


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AGI Projects on Instructional Quality

Teaching Quality, Student Engagement, and Student Agency: A project commissioned by the Raikes Foundation aims to harvest evidence on ways that the quality of teaching affects student engagement and agency. The project uses models of school engagement and teaching quality from the Tripod Project for School Improvement. The data have been collected over several years from classrooms around the nation. Measures of behavioral engagement, emotional engagement, and motivational mindsets, provide the basis for addressing issues of student social fit, conduct, aspiration, effort, and efficacy. The report on this work will distinguish ways that different components of teaching predict students’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Measuring Teaching Effectiveness: States and districts around the nation are seeking multiple measures of teaching effectiveness for both accountability and school improvement purposes. The AGI is working with the Tripod Project for School Improvement and a number of partners to construct teacher quality measures from student survey responses. Recent reports from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation show that Tripod Project measures of teaching effectiveness help predict student learning gains. The MET reports can be downloaded from Also see, Ronald F. Ferguson with Charlotte Danielson (2014) “How Framework for Teaching and Tripod 7Cs Evidence Distinguish Key Components of Effective Teaching.” In Thomas J. Kane, Kerri A. Kerr and Robert C. Pianta, eds, Designing Teacher Evaluation Systems: New Guidance from the Measures of Effective Teaching Project.

Instructional Leadership: In June 2009, the AGI held a conference that featured sixteen high schools, including eight from Massachusetts, making exemplary progress at raising student achievement based on value-added estimates. A 200-page conference report distills the presentations and draws implications for instructional leaders. The report was featured in a front page story in the New York Times on September 27, 2010 and has received attention through a number of other news outlets. Communication from school officials from around the U.S. indicates that they are finding the report helpful. The AGI is building on the exemplary high schools report by analyzing how value-added and gap-narrowing patterns in MA schools relate to teacher responses concerning their working conditions. Also see, Ronald F. Ferguson with Eric Hirsch (2014). “How Working Conditions Predict Teaching Quality and Student Outcomes.” In Thomas J. Kane, Kerri A. Kerr and Robert C. Pianta, eds, Designing Teacher Evaluation Systems: New Guidance from the Measures of Effective Teaching Project.

Early Career Supervision: Students at HGSE and HKS who have been former teachers arrive each fall with mixed reviews of the supervision they received in their first teaching jobs. In response, the AGI has collaborated with students to produce a survey to document their experience being supervised as beginning teachers. The survey will be used nationally in collaboration with both Teach for America and the American Federation of Teachers. Results will inform a report with advice to school administrators who supervise teachers at the beginning of their careers.

Value-Added Implications of Special Education Inclusion: The first phase of this project used data from the Massachusetts State Department of Education to construct student level value-added measures. The test score and student background data were from the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) for 8th and 10th graders. For the special education project, individual-level estimates for reading and mathematics were aggregated to the school level for students who received special education services during their 8th grade school year. In addition, value-added estimates were compiled for each school as a whole. The AGI is compiling a report examining whether students with equal MCAS scores and the same special education status at the end of 8th experience greater achievement growth by the end of 10th grade if they attend high schools that practice inclusion. The report will supplement statistical findings with qualitative data from schools that practice different degrees of inclusion.