Chicago, IL: Four factors improve student test scores in Illinois’ public school districts– and two are associated with lower academic achievement– according to a new study by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Project for Middle Class Renewal (PMCR) and the Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI). The researchers found that higher teacher retention rates, better teacher attendance rates, and more teachers with master’s degrees are all linked with increases in the share of students who meet or exceed educational expectations.
“Teachers matter,” said study co-author and ILEPI’s Midwest Researcher Jill Gigstad. “Half of the factors that contribute to high-performing school districts relate to teacher quality and teacher dependability.”
The analysis evaluated test score data from the 2017-18 school year and the financial conditions for two-thirds of all Illinois’ public school districts. For the average district, a 10% increase in teacher retention is associated with a 2% improvement in student test score proficiency and a 10% increase in teacher attendance is associated with a 1% gain the share of students who meet or exceed expectations.
“Our study highlights the fact that retaining credentialed teachers is essential to the success of students,” added study co-author, PMCR’s Director, and University of Illinois Professor Robert Bruno. “One way to improve retention is to raise teacher pay, which is strongly correlated with higher retention rates as teachers feel valued as professionals.”
Bruno added that the State of Illinois is currently facing a teacher shortage, with nearly 2,900 unfilled education jobs and 13% of teachers either leaving their schools or exiting the profession altogether every year. Relatively low pay has been a primary driver of this shortage, according to the authors. Illinois’ teachers earn 16 percent less than comparable workers with the same level of educational attainment.
“The recently-passed $40,000 minimum salary for public school teachers will help attract and retain qualified workers into teaching careers,” noted study co-author and ILEPI’s Policy Director Frank Manzo IV. “The new minimum salary will boost earnings for nearly 10,000 full-time teachers across the state.”
Economic factors also play an important role, according to the authors. A 10% increase in funding adequacy is associated with a 1% improvement in student test score proficiency. On the other hand, school districts with a high share of low-income students fared worse.
“Increasing state funding for public education would improve district finances and result in 46,000 more students being prepared for college,” said Bruno. “Building and expanding upon the evidence-based funding model would also decrease school district reliance on property taxes, which are particularly regressive in Illinois and have produced a system in which schools in low-income areas are under-resourced and under-performing.”
Finally, consolidated school districts do not have better test score performance. In fact, academic achievement is 2% lower in consolidated districts. This finding led the authors to caution elected officials that consolidating school districts in any efforts to cut costs could produce unintended consequences.
“While Illinois’ school districts continue to face financial difficulties, state lawmakers can implement policies that are proven to attract and retain qualified teachers and improve local economic conditions,” concluded Gigstad. “Increasing state funding for public education, raising teacher pay, and increasing investments in low-income communities are the most effective ways to improve student academic performance.”
The Project for Middle Class Renewal (PMCR) at the University of Illinois investigates the working conditions in today’s economy and works to provide research, analysis and education on public policies that will reduce poverty, prevent discrimination, create more stable forms of employment, and promote middle-class jobs.
The Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI) is a nonprofit research organization which promotes thoughtful economic growth for businesses and working families.