A New Two-Year Study of Professional Development for Math Teachers Finds No Statistically Significant Impact on Teacher Knowledge or Student Achievement

Washington, D.C. – A federally-funded two-year study of professional development programs for seventh grade mathematics teachers found there was no statistically significant cumulative impact on teacher knowledge or on student achievement. The study, led by the American Institutes for Research (AIR), in partnership with MDRC, was released on May 25, 2011 by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES).

The Middle School Mathematics PD Impact Study was funded by the National Center for Educational Evaluation and Regional Assistance to learn more about the role of professional development in improving teacher effectiveness. In recent years, the federal government has provided states and school districts with more than $1.5 billion annually for teacher professional development.

The study examined the impact of two years of a professional development program for seventh-grade mathematics teachers that focuses on their knowledge of rational number topics – like fractions, decimals, percent, ratio and proportion – as well as specialized knowledge that may be useful for teaching these topics. Rational numbers are considered an essential foundation for algebra.

Researchers found that:

  • At the end of the second year of implementation, the professional development program did not have a statistically significant impact on teacher knowledge. There were no significant impacts on teachers’ total score on a specially constructed teacher knowledge test. On average, 75.7 percent of the teachers in the treatment group correctly answered test items that were of average difficulty for the test instrument, compared with 74.7 percent of the teachers in the control group.
  • At the end of the second year of implementation, the professional development program did not have a statistically significant impact on average student achievement in rational numbers. There was no significant impact on students’ total score on a customized rational numbers test.

In addition to the main analyses, the researchers also conducted exploratory analyses combining data from the first and second years of the study.  These analyses showed no significant effect of a year of professional development on overall teacher knowledge, but a significant positive effect on teachers’ specialized knowledge for teaching mathematics.  The analyses also showed that teachers’ knowledge is associated with the achievement of their students.

“The results suggest that we do not yet know how to deliver professional development on a large scale in ways that can reliably improve student achievement,” said AIR Vice President Michael Garet, a professional development expert and a leader of the study.

The professional development was provided by America’s Choice and Pearson Achievement Solutions, who were selected through a competitive process guided by a panel of outside experts. Two providers were chosen to ensure the capacity to deliver high quality professional development and by a desire to test the impact of the professional development design by allowing two differing presentations of the same basic design features.

The study tested the effect of a professional development program when implemented with a relatively large sample, in varied settings, and using multiple facilitators. The study examined approximately 100 teachers who received professional development in 12 districts in the first year of the study and approximately 50 teachers in six districts during the second year.

On average, the sample was 35 percent white, 35 percent black, 25 percent Hispanic, 3 percent Asian and 1 percent other. The average treatment teacher in the impact analysis attended 77 hours of professional development.

The report is available on the IES and AIR websites.

About AIR
Established in 1946, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education, and workforce productivity. For more information, visit www.air.org.