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IES Grant

Title: Equipping High School Teachers to Increase Student Motivation and Course Passing Rates
Center: NCER Year: 2015
Principal Investigator: Mac Iver, Martha Awardee: Johns Hopkins University
Program: Social and Behavioral Context for Academic Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (7/1/2015-6/30/2019) Award Amount: $1,499,626
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A150449

Co-Principal Investigator: Mac Iver, Douglas J.

Purpose: In this project, researchers developed and tested a set of professional development (PD) modules and related tools intended to improve high school teachers' attitudes and practices in ways that support and motivate students to work hard in their classes. Increased motivation and effort are predicted to lead to fewer course failures. Whether students pass or fail classes, particularly in ninth grade, is a strong predictor of high school graduation. For many students, course failure results from lack of engagement in course work. Helping teachers change their practice to engage students and meet course requirements is a critical need in high schools.

Project Activities: In the first year, the researchers worked in one high school with teachers and administrators to develop an initial version of the PD modules. In the second year, the PD was field tested in another high school to determine usability and feasibility. In the third year, the researchers conducted a quasi-experimental pilot study, with one high school implementing the PD intervention and a comparable high school in the same district serving as the control school.

Key Outcomes: Information about key outcomes and study findings will be reported when peer reviewed publications are available.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This study took place in Maryland, the District of Columbia, and California.

Sample: For development and field-testing activities, approximately 110 teachers and administrators in two high schools serving primarily African-American students participated. For the pilot study, about 2,450 students (of 3,600) and 142 teachers (of 165) in two high schools participated. A large majority (85 percent) of the pilot school district's student population is economically disadvantaged, and 10.3 percent are English language learners. A majority of students at the pilot study high schools were Hispanic (60 percent) or African-American (23 percent).

Intervention: The intervention includes delivery of professional development (PD) modules and associated tools for teachers and administrators to help them understand and identify ways to engage students in academic work and prevent them from failing in high school. The modules provide instructional strategies for teachers to use to motivate students to work hard to earn course credit. There are 10 general sessions and six mathematics sessions, each delivered in a 60-90 minute PD session, together with supplementary lesson planning and instructional tools. Aligned with research about factors associated with student motivation and engagement, the general series focuses on the importance of fostering positive relationships (teacher-student and student-student), providing choices and affirming student autonomy, emphasizing student growth in mastery or competence, and helping students to see the relevance of classroom learning for their current lives and future work. The PD also addresses the issue of grading, providing teachers with opportunities to consider and discuss how different grading strategies affect student willingness to continue exerting effort and work to grow in their mastery and performance. The mathematics PD series is designed to help teachers adapt their instructional practice in ways that will increase the initiative, perseverance, and eagerness of their students to engage in mathematical reasoning and problem solving. Throughout, there is an emphasis on encouraging students to engage in productive struggle and generate their own problem-solving strategies.

Research Design and Methods: In the first year, the researchers worked in one high school to develop an initial version of the PD modules. They used an iterative process involving observations, surveys, focus groups, interviews, and implementation of individual modules to inform revisions. In the second year, the researchers field tested the full set of PD modules in another high school to investigate whether the PD modules were usable and feasible. They developed implementation fidelity measures during field testing. In the third year, they conducted a quasi-experimental study with one high school implementing the PD intervention and another high school from the same district serving as a control school to determine promise for changing teacher attitudes and practices, and student effort, motivation, and course pass rates. In the final year of the project, researchers analyzed data and made final revisions to the PD modules.

Control Condition: The control high school continued to conduct typical practices.

Key Measures: The researchers used pre- and post-intervention surveys to measure teachers' attitudes (e.g., teaching efficacy; beliefs about reasons students fail classes) and practices (e.g., being proactive with struggling students; use of grading practices that allow for recovery from failure). Students reported on their engagement and achievement motivation using surveys. The researchers developed two latent scales from the student survey measures: Deep Learning and Engagement Practices, and Mathematics Comfort. The researchers also collected school record data of attendance and grades (pass/fail) to measure effort and achievement.

Data Analytic Strategy: The researchers used descriptive analyses to inform the development process. They used ordinary least-squares regression to determine impact of the PD on teacher and student outcomes and whether outcomes differ depending on course content area. They used structural equation modeling to develop the latent scales of deep learning, engagement practices, and comfort with mathematics.

Project website:

Publications and Products

Book chapter

Mac Iver, D. J. and Hann, T. M. Z. (2019). Effective school reforms for increasing engagement. In J. Fredricks, A. L., Reschly, and S. L. Christenson (Eds.), The Handbook of Student Interventions: Working with Disengaged Students (pp. 245–261). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.


Hann, T.M.Z. (2020) What's math good for, what can I do with it, and why do I even care? [Doctoral dissertation, Johns Hopkins University]. JScholarship.