Panel Paper: Learning from the Source: Can We Elicit Better Applicant Information Directly from Professional References?

Thursday, November 8, 2018
8206 - Lobby Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Dan Goldhaber1,2, Cyrus Grout1 and Malcolm Wolff1, (1)University of Washington, (2)American Institutes for Research

The composition of the teacher workforce is an important determinant of student outcomes, and most academic research has focused on interventions designed to improve incumbent teachers (through professional development or financial incentives, for example). Less attention has focused on how to improve the front-end of the teacher pipeline, including the hiring process. Our current work builds on previous research suggesting that applicants’ professional references (PRs) are a valuable source of information about applicant quality (Goldhaber, Grout, & Huntington-Klein, 2017). That research, conducted in partnership with Spokane Public Schools found that scores on an applicant screening rubric used by district hiring officials were predictive of teacher retention and value-added measures of teacher effectiveness. Importantly, hiring officials relied heavily on letters of recommendation from professional references (PRs) to inform their scoring of applicants on that rubric.

The collection of letters of recommendation is already a standard procedure in the great majority of school districts and the collection of ratings data may represent relatively “low-hanging fruit” as a means of improving teacher selection. While there is some evidence in the broader labor market literature that structured PR assessments of applicants are predictive of future performance (e.g., McCarthy and Goffin, 2001; Liu et al., 2009), to our knowledge, there is no research on whether structured assessments of teacher applicants by their references are predictive of teacher outcomes associated with student achievement. In our current work, we study whether an enhancement to the process through which applicant data are collected from PRs can improve teacher selection in Spokane Public Schools. Specifically, following their submission of a letter of recommendation, we ask PRs to rate teacher applicants relative to their peers on a series of criteria demonstrated to be predictive of positive teacher outcomes and student achievement.

We will present preliminary evidence on the relationship between PRs’ ratings of applicants and the following: an applicant’s propensity to be hired; outcomes for hired applicants including performance evaluation scores, retention, and value-added measures of effectiveness. We will also present evidence on how these relationships vary by applicant type (e.g., novice versus experienced) and PR type (e.g., colleague versus administrator). The PR ratings data will be drawn from the 2015, 2016, and 2017 hiring years. During that time, the PR ratings data were not made available to SPS hiring officials. Hence, the relationships analyzed above will be independent of the PR ratings' influence on district hiring decisions. Moving forward, PR ratings will be provided to hiring officials for a random subset of applicants, allowing us to assess their influence on hiring decisions and whether they provide novel informational content to hiring officials.