Panel Paper: Teacher Quality and Postsecondary Outcomes for Students With Disabilities

Saturday, November 4, 2017
Water Tower (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Roddy Theobald1, Dan Goldhaber1,2, Trevor Gratz2 and Kristian Holden1, (1)American Institutes for Research, (2)University of Washington

Approximately 13% of public school students receive special education services as part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and federal spending on special education is about $50 billion annually. In spite of this large investment into special education, there has been relatively little research on the postsecondary outcomes of students with disabilities. Moreover, while a growing literature investigates the distribution of teacher qualifications across districts, schools, and classrooms—and, in many cases, finds that poor or minority students tend to have less-qualified teachers than other public school students—there is little empirical evidence about the distribution of teacher qualifications across students with and without disabilities. This is potentially problematic because a large body of research suggests that teacher quality is the most important school factor in determining outcomes for public school students.

We attempt to address both of these gaps in the literature by using detailed, longitudinal administrative data on public school students in Washington State, which includes linked college and employment data. We first consider the distribution of teacher qualifications—experience, degree level, licensure test scores, and value added—across students with and without disabilities. We find that students with disabilities are disproportionately assigned to teachers with less teaching experience, lower degree levels, lower licensure test scores, and lower prior measures of value added than students without disabilities. This contributes to the growing literature documenting inequity in the distribution of teacher qualifications across districts, schools, and classrooms.

We then assess the relationship between these teacher characteristics and a number of outcomes for students with disabilities. Specifically, we consider high school outcomes, such as student test scores, the number of excused absences, progression between grades, and on-time graduation, as well as postsecondary outcomes, such as employment and college attendance. In each of our specifications, we control for baseline levels of student achievement and the observable characteristics of students with disabilities; we also estimate models that include school or district fixed-effects. That said, we view these results as descriptive because we cannot fully account for potential sources of bias; for example, students may be assigned to more experienced or qualified teachers along unobserved dimensions that may also impact their longer-term outcomes.

We find strong associations between prior measures of teacher value added and the performance of students with disabilities on standardized tests, but no consistent associations between value added (or other teacher qualifications) and absences, grade progression, on-time graduation, college enrollment, or labor market participation of students with disabilities. This suggests that further research is needed to identify the specific characteristics and qualifications of public school teachers that are predictive of these important outcomes for students with disabilities.