Study of Professional Development for Math Teachers Finds Positive Effects on Instruction But Not on Student Achievement or Teacher Knowledge

Washington, D.C. – An interim report on the implementation of an intensive teacher professional development program for seventh grade middle school mathematics teachers had a positive impact on the frequency with which the teachers engaged students in thinking activities, but found no statistically significant impact on teacher knowledge or student achievement. The study for the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), which was released on April 6, 2010, was directed by the American Institutes for Research (AIR).

The study, Middle School Mathematics Professional Development Impact Study: Findings After the First Year of Implementation, is the first rigorous test of the impact of a professional development (PD) program focused on teachers of middle school mathematics. Currently, through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the federal government provides significant resources for professional development, but little rigorous evidence is available about the impact on teacher and student outcomes.

The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Educational Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE) initiated the study to test the impact of a program designed to develop teachers’ capability to effectively teach positive rational numbers – fractions, decimals, ratio, rate, proportion, and percent. Seventh grade is considered the culminating year for teaching those topics.

The study produced the following results:

  • The PD program did not produce a statistically significant impact on teacher knowledge of rational numbers. On average, 54.7 percent of teachers in the treatment group answered test items of average difficulty correctly, compared with 50.1 percent for teachers in the control group.
  • The PD program had a statistically significant impact on the frequency with which teachers engaged in activities that elicited student thinking, one of the three measures of instructional practice used in the study. This measure encompasses such behaviors as asking other students whether they agree or disagree with a particular student’s response and also includes behaviors elicited from the students such as offering additional justifications or strategies. Treatment teachers on average engaged in 1.03 more activities per hour that elicited student thinking. The PD program did not produce a statistically significant impact on the other two measures of instructional practice.
  • The PD program did not produce a statistically significant impact on student achievement. Students in treatment schools on average scored 218.65 scale score points, compared with 218.18 scale score points for students whose teachers were not participating in the PD program.
  • The treatment group teachers attended an average of 83 percent of the implemented hours of the study-provided PD program and reported participating in 55.4 hours more mathematics-related PD than the control group teachers. When asked to report on all mathematics-related PD received between summer and spring—including both study-provided PD and PD not related to the study—treatment group teachers reported receiving significantly more hours of mathematics-related institutes, seminars, and coaching than control group teachers (76.5 hours compared with 21.2 hours).

Dr. Michael Garet, an AIR vice president and expert on teacher professional development, directed the study. Within 12 participating school districts, the study randomly assigned 77 mid- and high-poverty schools to treatment and control conditions and collected outcome data on teachers and students. The training was provided by Pearson Achievement Solutions and America’s Choice, each of which served the treatment schools in six of the 12 participating districts.

This report presents results following 1 year of professional development. A second report will present the results following 2 years of professional development. The study is being conducted by AIR and its partner MDRC, with evaluation partners REDA International and Westat.

The full study is available on the IES Website:

About AIR
Established in 1946, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is an independent, 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