Blazar 2015 The Effects of Grade Level Switching

Blazar, D. (2015). Grade assignments and the teacher pipeline: A low-cost lever to improve student achievement? Educational Researcher, 44(1), 213-227. Doi: 10.3102/0013189X15580944


Summary: This quantitative study examined the effects of grade switching on teacher performance, student achievement, and teacher career trajectory. Drawing upon 10 years worth of administrative data, the study finds that grade switching beyond adjacent years can have a detrimental effect on student achievement and this effect can last beyond the first year and into the second year of the switch. The study recommends that administrators take the effects of grade level switching beyond the adjacent year seriously.

Research Questions:

  1. Do inexperienced teachers, those with low value-added scores, or those who work in high-risk schools switch grades at higher rates than their colleagues in a way that may exacerbate inequality? (The study found this to be true).
  2. Is grade reassignment related to teachers’ long-term career trajectories – namely, their productivity or retention in their school or in the district? (The study found that those who switch more, especially beyond adjacent grades, are more likely to leave and their ability to positively impact student achievement decreases).
  3. Do these trends differ for those who switch to a grade adjacent to their original assignment versus those who switch to a grade farther away? (The study found this to be true. Those who switch to a grade greater than an adjacent grade struggled more with student achievement than those who switched to an adjacent grade, regardless of experience. This effect persisted into the second year following the switch suggesting that grade level switches beyond the adjacent year can have tremendous consequences for students).


  • 10 year panel of administrative data
  • elementary teachers
  • data included human resource information, demographic and test-score data for students, and course files

Important quotes:

  • “I find that, in many cases, teachers who switch grades exhibit smaller returns to experience in the year of the switch relative to average. For those who switch to a nonadjacent grade, these decrements can wipe out any gains due to increased experience and can persist in the year after the switch occurs” (p. 223).
  • “In addition to having potentially negative consequences for the most vulnerable teachers (i.e., early career teachers and those with low prior value-added scores), high rates of grade switching likely impact the most vulnerable students” (p. 223).
  • “In addition, the first set of descriptive analyses suggests that grade reassignments likely are not random. For example, findings that teachers with low prior value-added scores switch grades at higher rates than their more effective colleagues suggest that grade reassignments may be a strategic decision on the part of school leadership” (p. 224).