Professional Development Shown to Improve Teachers’ Knowledge and Some Aspects of Teaching But Not Student Achievement

Washington, D.C. — An intensive content-focused professional development (PD) program improved fourth-grade teachers’ knowledge and some aspects of their instruction, but not their students’ achievement, according to a new study by the American Institutes for Research (AIR).

As state standards become more rigorous, teachers are increasingly expected to deepen their students’ understanding of math concepts. Teachers may benefit from content-focused PD to strengthen their own conceptual understanding of math, particularly elementary school teachers who are less likely than secondary school teachers to take math courses in college.

The study, commissioned by the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education, examined the impact of a three-part content-intensive PD program. The foundation of the 93-hour PD program was Intel Math, an 80-hour summer workshop designed to deepen teachers’ knowledge of K-8 math. Two school-year components totaling 13 hours supported the transfer of knowledge to classroom instruction.

Participants included 165 teachers from 73 schools in six districts and five states. Grade 4 teachers were randomly assigned within their schools to receive the three-part PD program or to a control group. The study described the implementation of the PD program and assessed the impact of the PD on teachers’ knowledge, instructional practice, and their students’ achievement.

Among the study’s major findings:

  • The PD was well implemented and delivered as planned, with high rates of teacher participation. Overall, teachers who received the study’s PD program participated in 95 more hours of math-related PD than did control teachers.
  • The PD had a positive impact on teacher knowledge. The findings imply that a teacher with average math knowledge (at the 50th percentile) who receives the study PD would enter the ranks of the top third of teachers (with knowledge at the 71st percentile).
  • The PD had a positive impact on one of three dimensions of teachers’ instructional practice: Richness of Mathematics. The findings imply that a teacher who is average at explaining math concepts in class would move from the 50th to the 73rd percentile.
  • Despite the PD’s positive impact on some teacher outcomes, the PD did not have a positive impact on student achievement.

This is the third random assignment study of teacher professional development that AIR has conducted for the Institute of Education Sciences. The first study focused on second-grade reading; the second study focused on seventh-grade math.

Focusing on Mathematical Knowledge: The Impact of Content-Intensive Teacher Professional Development can be found on the IES website.

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