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Evaluating global progress on improving teacher quality: ISCED-T and other possible metrics

By Maria Teresa Tatto, Arizona State University.

While it has long been recognised that teachers require adequate qualifications and training, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted as never before the critical role of highly qualified teachers. In particular, the crisis brought to light teachers’ need for distance-based pedagogical skills, digital and ICT skills, socio-emotional skills, and greater capacity for self-directed learning, innovation and creativity. To improve teacher quality, however, it is vital to be able to measure it. The development in 2021 of a new classification system of teacher training programmes (ISCED-T) is an important step forward in measuring teacher quality.

Let’s take a look at current global measurement of teacher quality, which is based on Target 4.c of the Sustainable Development Goals: “By 2030, substantially increase the supply of qualified teachers, including through international cooperation for teacher training in developing countries, especially least developed countries and small island developing States.” To assess progress against SDG4.c, two kinds of indicators are currently used. One type sheds light on remuneration and incentives, Indicator 4.c.5 (i.e., salary relative to professions with similar levels of qualifications) and Indicator 4.c.6, teacher attrition rates, which are often related to the former. The other type focuses more directly on teacher quality including the following concepts:

  • Trained teachers (Indicator 4.c.1) - “Proportion of teachers with the minimum required qualifications”, defined as those who have received at least the minimum organized pedagogical teacher training pre-service and in-service required for teaching. It is also the global indicator for tracking target 4.c;
  • Qualified teachers (Indicator 4.c.3) - “Percentage of teachers qualified according to national standards”, defined as those who have at least the minimum academic qualifications required for teaching their subjects at the relevant level; and
  • Supported teachers (Indicator 4.c.7) - “Percentage of teachers who received in-service training in the last 12 months.”

In addition, indicators 4.c.2 and 4.c.4 measure the ratios of pupils to trained teachers and qualified teachers, respectively, providing a measure of students’ relative access to teachers and thus shining additional light on educational quality.

The problem with these global indicators is that there are no international definitions of “trained”, “qualified” or “supported” teachers – only national standards. For instance, “trained” primary teachers in Niger complete an upper secondary education diploma in teacher training, whereas in South Africa they complete a tertiary-level degree in education. Similarly, many teachers receive in-service training, but the length and quality of training varies. Lastly, if countries find it difficult to comply with ambiguous notions of minimum training, they might tend to report a larger proportion of teachers as trained than that which reflects the actual situation.

The “qualified” teacher definition has similar limitations and related indicators require additional metrics showing whether teachers have been exposed to and have acquired the needed knowledge, skills, values and beliefs.


International Standard Classification of Teacher Training Programmes (ISCED-T)

High-quality teachers can only be developed through high-quality teacher education programmes. Building upon the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED), a framework designed to generate comparable statistics on education and training, the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS) has been developing a new classification of teacher training programmes as a contribution to tracking progress against SDG4.c. and shedding light on teacher training programmes.

Early analysis by UIS resulted in a list of ten potential criteria for classifying teacher training programmes:

  1. ISCED level of the training programme,
  2. the teaching level in which graduates are authorized to teach,
  3. education pre-requisites for entering the programme,
  4. duration of the programme,
  5. pathway to the teaching profession (concurrent, consecutive, alternative),
  6. type of institution,
  7. content (proportion of academic and pedagogical content);
  8. name of qualification or degree awarded,
  9. teaching practice required for completion, and
  10. probation/induction support.

The proposed new classification of teacher training programmes - or ISCED-T - and the proposed criteria should respond to current needs, but the number of criteria may need to be reduced to include only the four first indicators due to difficulty in collecting all the data and the need to balance detail with usability. However, while indicators 1-4 can shed much-needed light on critical aspects of teacher training quality, additional metrics are needed.


Reframing teacher education and development and opportunities to learn

The persistent gaps in information on teacher quality and the new spotlight on teachers due to COVID-19 signal an urgent need for creativity and international cooperation to collect data that measure key information about teacher training programmes. Given the variety in national standards, countries need to collaborate to develop universal standards and methodologies to measure teacher education quality.

Reframing teacher education and development standards is an important means to advance definitions, measurement and procedures to create sustainable indicators that provide valid evidence about SDG target 4.c. This effort may occur as part of the development of ISCED-T, the refinement of SDG4.c indicators or within alternative models to ensure the collection of a broader set of indicators that shed light on teacher qualifications and quality of their education and training.

Beginning in 2008, the TEDS-M and FIRSTMATH studies measured a comprehensive range of indicators of teacher education quality applicable at the international level in almost 30 countries. Such indicators have been linked to teacher education knowledge outcomes and with teacher success in the first years of teaching. The research has helped develop valid indicators of quality initial teacher education, practicum and induction. The following describes the main areas of teacher education and development and potential indicators and metrics needed to measure them.


Initial Teacher Education

Providing quality initial teacher education (ITE) is a critical step in developing effective teachers. Beyond some of the proxy criteria considered for inclusion in ISCED-T to shed light on programme quality (e.g., ISCED level of programme, minimum entry qualifications and duration), further unpacking ITE can yield several other important metrics. Indicators can help explore standards on programme content using information on the specific topics covered. This analysis can reveal, for example, whether teachers have had comprehensive training in subject-matter and the subtopics of different fields of knowledge. For pedagogical content knowledge and other pedagogical skills, it is possible to employ scales asking whether teachers had opportunities to learn about lesson planning, practicing and evaluating instruction, teaching students from a diverse range of ability and cultural backgrounds, providing feedback, and assessing student learning.



The practicum or internship experience typically occurs as part of formal teacher training programmes and is designed to help students connect theoretical knowledge of teaching to a practical setting under supervision by more experienced teachers. In assessing teacher quality, it is important to know whether teachers received opportunities to learn to manage in real school settings, the demands of the curriculum and compliance with school norms. Moreover, the practicum period can lead to critical opportunities for change when pre-service teachers undergo learning experiences with interpretation assistance by mentors. Scales can be used to indicate the proportion of teachers who report opportunities to reflect on and improve their practice and engage in situational problem-solving. Scales can also be used to assess the quality of the feedback received. Additional data could include the duration of practicum in notional hours and when it was introduced (i.e., mostly at the end of the programme, during theoretical training or sandwiched between).



Induction occurs once teachers are hired and helps them as new professionals to learn about school norms, regulations and procedures. Scales can also be used to indicate the proportion of teachers who report having a quality induction experience including their success in mastering skills and procedures.


Continuing Professional Development (CPD)

CPD is critical to ensure teachers have opportunities to learn knowledge and skills required to remain up to date with evolving curriculum and administrative norms. Beyond the SDG target on percentage of teachers receiving in-service training within the past 12 months, additional indicators could shed light on the type of CPD including different subject-matter areas, pedagogical skills, use of ICT or on TPACK, which explores the intersection between content, pedagogy and technology; it could also include indicators related to notional hours of CPD during the academic year. Another key indicator of a high-quality CPD is whether it results in the formation of a learning community where teachers can meet in person or virtually to share knowledge of practices and other general information.


Learning outcomes

Finally, indicators of teachers’ levels of competence could be developed from low-stakes formative assessments of the knowledge, skills, values and beliefs that teachers need to be effective. This would help monitor the quality of the education/preparation that teachers have received during and at the end of their programmes, and whether further support is needed. Teacher CPD frameworks based on teachers’ expected competencies can inform national-level indicators that can be developed and used to assess whether teachers have attained expected outcomes for their level and rank in the national structure, as well as other expectations based on subject matter specialization, educational level, and other criteria. The TEDS-M and FIRSTMATH studies have provided a useful international framework that can be adapted to measure whether ITE and CPD are meeting their objectives.



ISCED-T will provide a much-needed classification system to shed more light on the quality of training programmes and therefore teachers; it should however be complemented with new measures of opportunities that teachers have to acquire the knowledge, skills, values and beliefs that allow them to be effective. ISCED-T can be complemented by a broader scope of indicators reflecting the lifespan of teacher preparation and professional development. It can also be complemented by low stakes formative assessments that measure the levels of knowledge acquired by teachers during and after the end of their education and/or training. This more comprehensive perspective on teachers’ lifelong learning will increasingly be important to effectively develop, measure and benchmark teacher quality at the national and international levels.

The author of this blog is Dr Maria Teresa Tatto, an expert in the field of comparative education with a focus on teacher education systems. As Executive Director and lead principal investigator of the Teacher Education and Development Study in Mathematics (TEDS-M)—the first global international study of educator preparation in mathematics—she created a theoretical framework to analyze the relationships between teacher preparation research, policy, and practice. Dr Maria Teresa Tatto is a Professor of Comparative Education at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College in the Division of Leadership and Innovation at Arizona State University.

For more information and data related to teachers, see the Teacher Task Force information related to SDG4.c indicators as well as additional international sources of data and statistics on teachers and teaching.

Photo credit: Antenna/Unsplash