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Teacher profiles and high school mathematics achievement: What do we know about the teachers of Latino and ELL high school students?

  • Author(s): Thompson, Angela
  • Advisor(s): Tellez, Kip
  • Mosqueda, Eduardo
  • et al.


Teacher Profiles and High School Mathematics Achievement: What Do We Know About the Teachers of Latino and ELL High School Students?

Angela Thompson

Educational researchers have long sought to identify, measure, and explain the pathways to becoming a high-quality teacher, but specifying the precise admixture of preparation, knowledge, and policies remains elusive. Few studies link teacher qualities to student achievement, despite state and national calls for teacher accountability of their students' test scores (Guarino, Hamilton, Lockwood, & Rathbun 2006). Analyzing the characteristics of mathematics teachers whose students are achieving may help to diminish the long-standing opportunity gap in US schools between the large population of underserved students and those of the dominant culture and language. The persistent underperformance of Latino students, many of whom are also English Language Learners, is of particular concern.

The present study explored the qualities of teachers whose Latino and ELL students achieve in mathematics, and was guided by the following research questions: a) what are the characteristics of prevailing profiles of US 10th grade mathematics teachers; b) what are the predominant characteristics of students who are assigned to 10th grade mathematics teacher profiles; c) which teacher profiles, if any, are more likely to have Latinos or ELLs; and d) what combinations of matching students with teachers might predict better success for Latinos and ELLs in high school mathematics?

Using the ELS 2002–2004 longitudinal data set, a cluster analysis revealed five groups of teachers by their survey responses within a data set of over 4000 mathematics teachers. Results indicate that teachers whose students perform best in mathematics are primarily White, female, highly educated, regularly certified, and have many years of experience. Latinos and ELLs are significantly more likely to have newer, alternatively certified teachers who are Latinos themselves. For Latino and ELL students who scored well in mathematics, these newer, seemingly less prepared teachers may be best for them, but only if students are enrolled in high-tracked rigorous courses.

The results suggest more than one model of a high–quality teacher. Teachers should be highly educated in mathematics, but also highly prepared to teach special populations of students and to use the most recent technology in pedagogically appropriate ways. More importantly, students not enrolled in high-tracked, honors, AP, or college preparatory courses struggle in mathematics, regardless of their teachers' background or preparation.

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