Teacher depth of knowledge as a predicator of student achievement in the middle grades

Tracy Henshaw Jackson


Schools strive to hire highly qualified teachers to educate and empower students to become high performers (NCEE, 1983; Erickson, 1995). As a part of this effort, teachers are required to obtain specific skills and certification to meet students' academic needs. While the intent is recognized, there continues to be a discrepancy between highly qualified teachers in the middle grades and student achievement (The Nations Report Card, 2005; Turner-Bissett, 1999). Therefore, it is imperative to examine teachers' perceptions and instructional strategies that may influence students' achievement. The purpose of this study was to determine whether there is a correlation between high-performing and low-performing teachers' perceptions and observations of their instructional strategies as a predictor of student achievement. To achieve this, the study was conducted using quantitative and qualitative research methodology in three steps. First, teachers (n = 67) of middle grade students within a South Mississippi school district completed a survey to identify their perceptions about their instructional strategies. Second, the researcher categorized the participants as high-performing or low-performing teachers based on their students' achievement scores to assess if there is a relationship between their performances and student achievement. Last, the researcher conducted observations of the teachers' classroom performance to examine if a relationship exists between perceived and observed instructional strategies. Sixty-seven teachers completed perception surveys and 22 of the 67 participants agreed to classroom observations by the researcher. Perception surveys and observations were analyzed using descriptive statistics. The results indicated 98.5% of the teachers participating in the study perceived that they were able to engage students in learning and were comfortable with the content-specific concepts to meet academic standards. The hypothesis could not be tested to compare high-performing and low-performing teachers due to the lack of participants willing to volunteer for observations. High-performing, or depth of knowledge teachers (100%), were observed to actively engage their students in the classroom. However, low-performing, or acquisition teachers (79%), were observed to engage students in the learning process. The results of this study imply that teachers' perceptions may play a role in the dissemination of instructional strategies that engage students in active learning.