Washington, D.C. – Experts from the American Institutes for Research (AIR) played a significant role in studying and reporting the findings of The Impact of Two Professional Development Interventions on Early Reading Instruction and Achievement, a report that was released on September 22, 2008 by the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). IES is the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education.
The study is one of the first rigorous efforts to examine the impact of professional development (PD) on a large scale. Using a sophisticated randomized trial design, AIR and partners at MDRC and REDA International, Inc. studied the impact of two PD interventions for second grade reading teachers in high poverty schools and their students. The first intervention provided an intensive content-focused eight-day series of institutes and seminars. The second intervention supplemented the institute series with in-school coaching for teachers.
A total of 90 schools, 270 teachers, and 5,500 students within six school districts took part in the study. The researchers examined both teacher and student outcomes. Although the study noted positive impacts on teachers’ knowledge of scientifically based reading instruction, and some impacts on teacher instructional practices, neither PD approach resulted in significantly higher student test scores.
Study findings include:
- Teachers in schools receiving PD interventions scored significantly higher on the teacher knowledge test than teachers in control schools.
- Teachers who received the PD interventions were more likely than teachers in control schools to demonstrate specific strategies in their teaching that students can use to decode and comprehend text.
- The PD interventions did not significantly affect two other outcomes that were emphasized during the interventions: The extent to which teachers guided students in practicing specific reading skills, and the extent to which teachers differentiated instruction based on the needs of students in their classrooms.
- The PD interventions did not have a significant effect on student achievement. The scores of students in treatment schools were not significantly higher than those of students in control schools.
- The institute series in addition to in-school coaching did not produce a significantly greater impact on teacher practice than the institute series alone.
- No significant effects on teacher or student outcomes were observed one year after the treatment, when the PD was no longer being delivered to the teachers.
Exploratory analyses were conducted to suggest why the impact of the PD on teachers’ knowledge and practice did not translate into an impact on student achievement. There is some indication that the PD may not have had a large enough impact on teacher outcomes to produce a detectable impact on achievement. The design of the study did not permit a definitive test of this hypothesis.
AIR’s Michael S. Garet served as the study’s director and Stephanie Cronen served as the study’s deputy director. Fred Doolittle of MDRC served as the study’s co-director. Additional AIR staff members who participated in the study include Marian Eaton, Anja Kurki, and Meredith Ludwig.