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Districts adopt better-aligned screening of prospective teachers that predict success

When hiring teachers, districts are more likely to select better candidates if they use screening tools designed to align closely with actual classroom experiences and expectations, according to a recent study of Los Angeles USD undertaken by CALDER, an education policy arm of the American Institutes for Research.

A hiring process that reflects specific classroom expectations—for instance by requiring candidates to present a sample lesson to a hiring committee—is a reliable predictor of which new teachers will have a bigger impact on student achievement, score higher on evaluations and even have fewer absences, the survey found.

Key components

The LAUSD screening system, implemented in the 2014-15 school year, features eight key components (see sidebar) evaluated in a rubric developed by the district, the second largest in the nation. LAUSD receives nearly 10,000 applications for approximately 1,200 open teaching positions each year.

The 8 key components of LAUSD’s screening:

  • Interview
  • Professional references
  • Sample lesson
  • Timed writing sample
  • Undergrad GPA
  • Subject matter licensure test scores
  • Background check of non-teaching or leadership experience
  • Teaching preparation and credentials

The process was developed to better predict which applicants had the best chance of improving student outcomes, says Katharine Strunk, co-author of the two-year study and a professor of education policy at Michigan State University.

“The district said, ‘We know what we want from our teachers when they get in the classroom, so why don’t we screen for it when we are hiring?’” says Strunk.

Screening teachers based on classroom expectations is common sense, “especially in states like California, where you’re granted tenure very early on in your teaching career, and then it becomes very difficult to remove a teacher who you don’t think is a good fit,” Strunk says.

The approach should be easier to adopt now that many districts have implemented more detailed classroom observation protocols and teacher evaluation rubrics, says Strunk.

Similar approaches

Spokane Public Schools, which hires nearly 250 teachers annually and is the subject of another CALDER study, has found success with a comparable screening process.

The Washington district’s approach features a 60-point rubric that includes 10 key components that tend to be strong predictors, such as classroom management.

A high score in cultural competency is particularly important as the district becomes more diverse, says Mary Templeton, director of certificated personnel. Teachers who can value others, understand their own biases, provide a professional response with compassion and develop restorative practices tend to be more successful.

As in LAUSD, Spokane has also found predictive success in employment references, and has moved to confidential letters of recommendation, in which applicants do not view the content.

“We’re seeing for the first time, letters with two sentences—‘This teacher lacked classroom management. Call me if you’d like more information,’” says Templeton. “In the past, we didn’t get that kind of feedback, which we need.” Both districts have engaged local teaching colleges to align the process from the beginning of teacher preparation.

“These districts are saying ‘Why don’t we tell you what skills we need, and then your candidates will be better fits for our schools, and in the long run, be more successful,’” says Strunk.