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No, Mentoring a Student-Teacher Won't Hurt Your Evaluation Score, Study Suggests

Mentoring a student-teacher won't hurt a teacher's evaluation score—in fact, it might even give it a boost, according to a working study.

The study analyzed data on more than 4,500 cooperating teachers in Tennessee between the 2010-2011 and 2013-2014 school years, and compared their evaluations during the years they coached student-teachers in the classroom to the years they did not. The report, which is part of the Annenberg Institute at Brown University's working paper series and has yet to go through peer review, suggests that teachers who mentored student-teachers had significantly higher observation ratings and slightly improved achievement gains, but not always at a significant level.

"We wanted to see if we could recruit more instructionally effective teachers to work with students," said Matthew Ronfeldt, associate professor and researcher for the University of Michigan, who led the study. "But we wanted to make sure that there wouldn't be any unintended consequences because of this. One of the concerns expressed was that those instructors who were shown to be effective were afraid their evaluation scores would be harmed."

The study points to a variety of opinions on the pros and cons of candidate placement. In many cases, teachers worry that letting someone less experienced take the reins in the classroom will make their own teaching look worse. In addition to lowered evaluation scores, some argue that having a candidate lead the classroom of an exceptional teacher will reduce meaningful lesson plans and hurt short-term student achievement, especially on standardized tests. Meanwhile, some administrators feel that placement will actually benefit low-performing teachers by providing more helping hands in the classroom.

Ronfeldt and his co-authors worked with the Tennessee education department as part of a broader examination of state data to improve teacher education and, specifically, to identify risk potential.

Good Scores Can Go Up

The research team found some of the worries about candidate placement to be unfounded. Serving as a classroom mentor to a teaching candidate "does not appear to harm a teacher's concurrent or future performance evaluations and may even benefit them," the report says.

Excellent teachers tend to excel in their evaluation scores, along with student achievement gains, during the time they serve as cooperating teachers and in the time after. And student-teachers are better served for it in terms of preparation and future effectiveness, according to both the recent study and related literature. On the other hand, scores for struggling teachers—those who are the least instructionally effective—tend to remain low when they're mentoring.

The data suggest that exceptional teachers should be the ones mentoring students because doing so can both improve their own scores and help shape an effective next generation of teachers. Moreover, educator programs and policymakers should make an active effort to recruit instructionally effective teachers, the authors argue.

While the findings seem promising for recruiting more exceptional cooperating teachers to mentor aspiring teachers and help shape a stronger workforce on both ends, the report suggests future research be done into the mechanisms of how cooperating teachers achieve their performance and score boosts.

One reason for improved scores may be that the mentor teachers may also be investing more into lesson planning because of the need to mentor the rookies, which in turn serves as a form of professional development. It's also possible that cooperating teachers score higher on evaluations because they're less likely to be evaluated unexpectedly, since observations need to happen on days they—not the student-teachers—are leading instruction. The authors suggest that some teachers might be able to plan around a subject they excel in.

"At least in the state of Tennessee, we came to the conclusion that it might actually be to their benefit to be a [cooperating teacher] when evaluated," Ronfeldt said.

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