Building Capacity: An Evaluation of Florida Literacy and Reading Excellence (FLaRE) Professional Development to High Schools
What Is the Impact of FLaRE on Students and Teachers?
The FLaRE professional development (PD) model aims to build schools’ capacity to become independent in implementing research-proven practices to address students’ literacy needs. This study compared outcomes for schools receiving FLaRE support vs. schools not receiving FLaRE support, and for schools receiving Level 1 FLaRE support (the highest level) vs. schools receiving Level 3 support (the lowest level). Results showed no statistically significant impact of FLaRE PD for high schools across Florida. Yet, it is possible that comparison schools had in place staffing capacity and alternative sources of PD support that may account for the lack of effect. Consistent with the research on professional development and school reform models, student achievement in FLaRE schools was higher in the second year of FLaRE support than in the first year.
Additional analyses suggested that FLaRE had a positive impact on teacher knowledge and practice. We conducted interviews with Coordinators (the PD providers) and reading coaches (the primary targets of the PD). The Coordinator interviews suggested that FLaRE PD resulted in improved practices in five areas: (a) use of data to inform instruction, (b) motivation to try new instructional strategies, (c) knowledge and skills of new teachers, (d) collaboration among teachers, and (e) willingness of content area teachers to integrate explicit vocabulary and reading comprehension instruction into their lessons. The reading coaches we interviewed largely did not perceive substantial improvement in student scores (as we found in the quantitative analysis). However, they did suggest two additional areas of impact on students: (a) higher scores on assessments of basic skills (e.g., oral fluency) and assessments directly related to the curriculum (e.g., READ180 assessments), and (b) increased motivation to read.
Which PD Practices Are Most Effective?
The theory of action guiding this study postulates that Coordinators may strengthen schools’ capacity by providing four types of PD activities: general PD (addressing general knowledge base); targeted PD (addressing school needs); classroom presence (e.g., observing, co-teaching, or modeling); and student contact (e.g., administering assessments and addressing specific literacy needs). We have found a statistically significant correlation between several types of FLaRE PD activities and student achievement; However, this relationship was observed only for small high schools and those schools with a relatively lower number of students eligible for free/reduced-price lunch; these schools may have less complex needs and may be quicker to change following FLaRE support. For the smallest schools (the smallest quartile, with fewer than 966 students), adding to current practice 6.5 hours per month of direct, in-classroom modeling and co-teaching by Coordinators may increase the number of students reaching highest standards in reading by 10%. Alternatively, this 10% improvement requires adding 16.5 hours per month of PD designed specifically to meet the school’s needs (targeted PD), or 33.5 hours of more general PD. For the FLaRE schools with less extreme levels of poverty (the smallest quartile, with less than 42% of their students eligible for the free/reduced-price lunch price program), 11.4 hours of targeted PD brings a 10% gain.
These findings are supported by the qualitative data collected through interviews with FLaRE Coordinators, who identified modeling in classrooms as the most effective activity—when it was followed by debriefing, conversations, and/or follow-up observations. Individual interviews with teachers and coaches and observations of intensive reading classrooms showed that reading teachers and coaches would benefit from expert support to identify PD content that best addresses the literacy needs of the school population. Additionally, assessing school receptiveness and infrastructure at the start of the school year may increase the efficiency of Coordinators’ time allocation.