Closing the achievement gap is a collective effort

“Collective efficacy” is the sense among group members that they have the capability to organize and execute the actions required to achieve their most important goals. Researchers have, for twenty years, tested it as a key factor in explaining performance differences among groups attempting the same task in areas such as healthcare and manufacturing. The literature on collective efficacy in K–12 education is new and growing, spearheaded largely by Roger D. Goddard of The Ohio State University. A new report by a group of researchers led by Dr. Goddard seeks to unite quantitative and qualitative data on the subject.

The quantitative portion of the analysis was fairly straightforward, looking at the math achievement levels of 13,472 fourth- and fifth-grade students on a mandatory assessment given annually in one large district in Texas. Change between the two years of scores was the sole academic measure utilized and researchers looked at achievement gaps between different school buildings and between black and white students. A measure of collective efficacy was derived using a twelve-item survey, which was administered to 2,041 teachers. The survey rated teachers’ level of agreement on a scale of one to five with statements such as, “Teachers are here to get through to the most difficult students.” Statements addressed each individual’s perception of group competence and “analysis of the teaching task.” A single collective efficacy score for each building was made up of the mean of the twelve aggregated item scores.

After controlling for student and school demographic characteristics, a one standard deviation increase in collective efficacy was associated with a 0.1 standard deviation increase in mathematics achievement—a small but statistically significant predictor. More striking was the finding that a one standard deviation increase in collective efficacy was associated with a 50 percent reduction in the math achievement gap between black and white students. In short, schools whose teachers believe they have the capability of raising the math achievement of their students—all of their students—will apparently do so.

There are, of course, caveats to the findings, including the large Latino student population in the district whose achievement levels were not specifically analyzed (remember: the study looked only at the white-black achievement gap), and the difference between teaching math and less skills-based subjects like English and social studies, which might resist even the highest levels of collective efficacy. But we have seen evidence that odder things than teachers’ belief in themselves, and their students, may influence achievement.

Convinced of the positive connection between collective efficacy and math achievement, the researchers also sought to understand the factors that influenced schools’ relative collective efficacy scores. This was accomplished by way of teacher focus groups held at six selected schools—split evenly between high and low collective efficacy scores. The responses were nuanced and wide-ranging, but collective efficacy scores were most strongly correlated with perceptions of support from school leadership and perceptions of peers’ own efficacy and positive role modeling. The more supportive school leaders were perceived to be of teacher collaboration, instructional improvement, etc., the higher a school’s collective efficacy score. And the more teachers described their peers as having a sustained focus on instructional improvement (increased instructional time, no excuses for low performance, etc.), the higher a school’s collective efficacy score.

Collective efficacy is about “organizing and executing the courses of action required” for a group to achieve a goal. If the group has the sense that they are capable, research seems to indicate that they are more likely to succeed at organizing and executing. If that is true, then it seems like collective teambuilding is probably a better sign of success than, say,, collective bargaining.

SOURCE: Roger D. Goddard, Linda Skrla, and Serena J. Salloum, “The Role of Collective Efficacy in Closing Student Achievement Gaps: A Mixed Methods Study of School Leadership for Excellence and Equity,” Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk (October, 2017).

Jeff Murray
Jeff Murray is the Ohio Operations Manager of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute,