Professional Development Interventions on Early Reading Instruction and Achievement

AIR and MDRC, along with three small-business subcontractors, designed a randomized field trial to examine the impact of professional development (PD) on reading instruction and student achievement. The study combined scientific rigor with an understanding of how schools operate and what schools were doing in an attempt to improve reading instruction and performance. With a focus on second-grade teachers, AIR examined the effects of two approaches to professional development: eight days of institute (Treatment A) and follow-up seminars, and the institutes and seminars combined with on-site coaching throughout the school year (Treatment B). Our two treatments placed a strong emphasis on the content of early reading, and also incorporated features that are thought to be characteristic of high quality professional development.

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. 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.