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The Benefits of Students Staying with the Same Teacher for Two Years

By Kim Marshall, TIE columnist

The article: “A Teacher Who Knows Me: The Academic Benefits of Repeat Student-Teacher Matches” by Andrew Hill and Daniel Jones in Economics of Education Review, June 2018 (Vol. 64, p. 1–12), available for purchase at; the authors can be reached at and
In this article in Economics of Education Review, Andrew Hill (Montana State University) and Daniel Jones (University of South Carolina) report on their study of North Carolina students who were with the same teacher for a second year in Grades 3–5.
Only three percent of students had a second year with the same teacher, and only 10 percent of teachers were ever involved in a repeat student-teacher match over the study period—small percentages, but given the large size of the statewide database (more than 5 million student-by-year transitions), there were enough matches for Hill and Jones to draw valid conclusions.
(Three methodological notes: First, the researchers did not include students repeating a grade with the same teacher, which would have introduced another set of variables; most of the repeat matches were in sequential years. Second, very few of the same-teacher matches involved looping (a whole class moving up with their teacher). Finally, Hill and Jones used a variety of statistical methods to control for biases that might be introduced by higher-achieving students or more-effective teachers being involved in repeat matches.)
The researchers draw several conclusions from their data:
• Student achievement – There is “clear evidence,” say the authors, “that students perform better in the second year they are matched with a particular teacher” than they did in the first year (as measured by reading and math standardized-test results). Gains were small but significant, of similar magnitude to within-school black-white achievement gaps, and more robust than the effect of having a teacher of the same race. Student gains were larger in math than reading, which is consistent with studies showing that math is more responsive to school inputs than reading.
Hill and Jones believe it’s reasonable to conclude that the key variable in these academic benefits is an increase in teacher-student familiarity. Teachers and students knowing each other better plays out in several ways: teachers understand their students better in the second year (and vice-versa); teachers have more information about these students’ academic and non-academic data; teachers see more potential in students they know better, resulting in higher expectations; teachers work harder for students with whom they have a more developed relationship (and vice-versa); and pedagogical and discipline methods get more traction with students in the second year together.
• Racial subgroups – Students of color made the biggest academic gains. Hill and Jones believe this was because most teachers in the study were white females, and an extra year with students of color (boys and girls) improved the initial “social distance.” The authors elaborate: “Repeat student-teacher matches may allow teachers to develop a similar, if not better, understanding of their students than that provided by a race or gender match… [D]eeper student-teacher relationships may make minority students feel more understood and included in the classroom. Furthermore, if minority students are more likely to come from more challenging family environments (such as single-parent households), then teachers with better understandings of their specific backgrounds may be able to more adequately address needs arising outside the classroom.”
• Newcomers the second year – In the second year of looping situations (when almost all students moved up with the same teacher), even students who were not there the first year did better than in a control situation. Hill and Jones believe this was because improvements in classroom climate, pedagogy, and expectations benefited all students.
• Less-effective teachers – Parents and administrators might well be concerned with students spending a second year with a mediocre or ineffective teacher; surely this would compound the negative impact of that teacher’s pedagogy. One of the authors’ most surprising findings was that students gained more when they spent two years with teachers who were generally less-effective (as measured by value-added data) than they did with more-effective teachers. The explanation: “[I]t may be the case that low-quality teachers perform better when they know their students and have developed relationships with them. In this case, looping and repeat student-teacher matches may actually be a relatively low-cost tool to improve teacher performance for less-effective teachers.”
• Implications for departmentalization – When elementary teachers specialize by subject area (e.g., some teaching math, some ELA), that reduces teacher-student familiarity because students spend less time with each teacher. Other studies (e.g., Fryer, 2016) have found that elementary departmentalizing results in lower student achievement, and Hill and Jones believe this is because when students switch teachers from subject to subject, teacher-student familiarity suffers. “[S]o the results of this paper,” say the authors, “serve as a caution for policymakers or school administrators implementing this increasingly-popular intervention.”
The key variable, they conclude, is teachers and students knowing each other better. Repeat student-teacher matches “allow teachers to reallocate time and effort away from getting to know their students to tasks that directly increase student learning, which, interpreted more generally, helps us think about how other policies that affect the within-classroom allocation of teacher time and effort may impact student performance.” Although very few of the classes in the study looped, Hill and Jones say their data have clear positive implications for the efficacy of looping.

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