Searching for teaching factors that explain variation in student learning outcomes : a longitudinal study in primary schools of Ghana
Azigwe, John Bosco
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One of the key findings of Educational Effectiveness Research (EER) is the importance of the classroom level as a predictor of pupil outcomes. Research from developed countries has therefore centered on the classroom, and classroom processes as an important determinant of students' learning outcomes. Unfortunately, little of this strand of research has been conducted in sub-Saharan African countries, particularly in Ghana. This study is the first of its kind in Ghana, if not the entire sub-Saharan African region. The conceptual framework of the dynamic model of educational effectiveness was used in studying the impact of teaching factors on student learning gains in mathematics. The aim was to determine the degree to which teaching processes identified as effective in developed countries are equally effective in developing countries. The dynamic model refers to factors operating at four levels: student, teacher, school, and educational system. At the classroom level, the model refers to eight factors relating to teacher behavior in the classroom: orientation, structuring, questioning, teaching-modeling, application, management of time, classroom learning environment, and assessment. The model assumes that each of the factors can be defined and measured using five dimensions: frequency, focus, stage, quality, and differentiation. Seven longitudinal studies in Europe provided empirical support to the validity of this measurement framework and also revealed that teacher and school factors are associated with student learning outcomes. However, none of these studies has been conducted in developing countries where class sizes can be large. In this context, the study sought to determine whether the teacher factors of the dynamic model can be observed in primary classrooms in Ghana, and/or whether they are associated with student achievement. A multi-stage sampling procedure was used to generate data. Specifically, a representative sample of 73 primary schools in Ghana was selected and all grade six classes/teachers (N=99) and students (N=4386) participated in the study. Written tests in mathematics were administered to all the students both at the beginning and end of the school year 2013–2014. Data on student background factors (i.e., SES, home learning environment) was also collected. One high-inference and one low-inference observation instruments, and a student questionnaire were used in collecting data on quality of teaching. Confirmatory factor analyses provided support to the construct validity of each instrument. The questionnaire and the high-inference instrument produced valid data about each factor whereas the low-inference instrument generated data about each dimension and factor. Multilevel analyses were conducted investigating the extent to which teacher scores generated by each instrument were associated with student achievement. Data from the questionnaire could not identify any effect of teacher factors. However, data about each teacher factor from the instruments were found to be associated with student achievement. Moreover, data from the low-inference instrument revealed the importance of using different dimensions to measure each teacher factor. The instrument enabled the determination that the teachers emphasized more on the quantitative aspect of teaching which is basic to instruction. This revealed the importance of providing the teachers with training on the qualitative characteristics of teaching. The importance of using multiple instruments for measuring quality teaching was also revealed. With only the student questionnaire, wrongful conclusions would have been drawn about the effects of the teacher factors. Based on the impact of the factors on achievement, it can be claimed the factors are probably more important in the developing school context. All teacher factors and their dimensions were found to have much bigger effect sizes on student achievement (i.e., above 0.30) than the effect sizes reported by studies conducted in developed countries (i.e., smaller than 0.20). The importance of using observation instruments to measure the impact of teaching on student achievement in developing countries, especially African countries is also discussed. Policy on teacher professional development in Ghana, and implications for theory and research on educational effectiveness are finally drawn.