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Ask a REL Response

Impact of PLCs — January 2019


What does the research say about the impact of PLCs for teachers and their students, and what measures are used?


Following an established REL West research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and resources on the impact of PLCs for teachers and their students, and what measures are used. The sources included ERIC, Google Scholar, and PsychInfo. (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. Also, we searched for references through the most commonly used sources of research, but the list is not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance.

Research References

Blitz, C. L., & Schulman, R. (2016). Measurement instruments for assessing the performance of professional learning communities (REL 2016-144). Regional Educational Laboratory Mid-Atlantic. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance. Retrieved from Retrieved from

From the abstract: “For more than a decade education practitioners have promoted the professional learning community (PLC) as an effective way to provide professional development to teachers. As more PLCs are established in schools and districts nationwide, education stakeholders—researchers, practitioners, administrators, and policymakers—are interested in evaluating the performance of PLCs. Stakeholders want to know more about PLCs’ contributions to a range of outcomes, including teacher and administrator professional development, instructional practices, school culture, and, ultimately, student learning and achievement. This tool compiles 49 instruments for measuring key performance indicators of professional learning communities for teachers. It is intended as a resource for researchers, practitioners, and education professionals who seek solid evidence as the basis for planning, implementing, and evaluating teacher professional learning communities. The following are appended: (1) Literature search methodology and analysis; (2) Logic model for professional learning communities; (3) Deciding which instruments to use; and (4) Professional learning community measurement instruments. A list of references for professional learning community profiles is included.”

Dogan, S., Pringle, R., & Mesa, J. (2016). The impacts of professional learning communities on science teachers’ knowledge, practice and student learning: A review. Professional Development in Education, 42(4), 569–588. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “The purpose of this article is to provide a review of empirical studies investigating the impact of professional learning communities (PLCs) on science teachers’ practices and knowledge. Across 14 articles that satisfied the definition we embraced, most were devoted to the change in science teaching practices, disciplinary content knowledge (DCK) and pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) of K–12 science teachers. Although a small number of studies have implicit focus on comparing measures of student learning, we set out to examine the studies in science education and present how teachers engaged in PLCs focusing on examining and exploring strategies to promote student learning. Analysis of the related studies resulted in the following: PLCs can help teachers increase their PCK and DCK; increases in PCK and DCK may facilitate the change in teacher practices from traditional into more inquiry-based approaches; science teachers collaboratively focusing on student learning in PLCs are more likely to change their practice; and studies do not embrace student learning as an essential feature of PLCs. Methodological flaws and future directions along with implications for science teachers’ professional development are discussed.”

Moirao, D. R., Morris, S. C., Klein, V., & Jackson, J. W. (2012). Team check-up: Use 4 goals to assess a professional learning community’s effectiveness. Journal of Staff Development, 33(3), 32–36. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “The experiences in the school districts highlighted in this article clarify a set of broad goals that all professional learning communities can use to assess their effectiveness: (1) Culture; (2) Knowledge; (3) Practice; and (4) Achievement. These schools and districts have an ongoing commitment to all four goals. All of them have instituted learning clubs, established a common language, examined and refined instructional practices, and paid close attention to the impact this work has had on student achievement. Using these goals, the schools and districts provide the resources and support teachers need to become more effective educators. The professional learning community movement has taught educators that ‘a collection of superstar teachers working in isolation cannot produce the same results as interdependent colleagues who share and develop professional practices together.’ This means that professional learning communities are key to the development, nourishment, and continued success of effective educators, an idea widely supported by research, including an extensive study conducted by the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (2010).”

Ndunda, M., Van Sickle, M., Perry, L., & Capelloni, A. (2017). University-urban high school partnership: Math and science professional learning communities. School Science and Mathematics, 117(3–4), 137–145. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “This study focused on science and math professional learning communities (PLCs) that were implemented through a university-urban high school partnership. These PLCs were part of mandated school-wide, content-based PLCs implemented as part of the reform efforts initiated in an urban school to address the school’s failure to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for four years consecutively and low graduation rate (less than 25%) for male students. The key issues were (a) students had continually earned low test scores; (b) there was continuous principal turnover; (c) faculty morale was at an all-time low, and the quality of teaching was very poor; and (d) the students were not effectively disciplined. The study examined the impact that university faculty-led mandated PLCs have on teachers’ practices and students’ learning and achievement. Analysis of data revealed practices that were effective in developing and implementing these successful math and science PLCs. Three themes emerged: ethics of care, teacher agency, and aesthetics of professional interactions. Each theme contained key features that appeared to contribute to the implementation of a successful PLC.”

Owen, S. M. (2015). Teacher professional learning communities in innovative contexts: “Ah hah moments,” “passion” and “making a difference” for student learning. Professional Development in Education, 41(1), 57–74. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Innovative educational approaches for schooling require changes to the traditional teacher role towards operating as co-facilitators and co-learners, and working in teacher teams, with considerable professional learning supporting this. Professional learning communities (PLCs) have been acknowledged as highly effective, with their characteristics being identified with reasonable consistency. However, specific processes through which PLCs operate are less evident. Furthermore, there is little research about the links between PLCs and student learning outcomes in innovative contexts. This paper uses teacher interviews within three innovative case-study schools, and considers student learning outcomes and the links to teacher learning within PLC contexts from a teacher perspective. Findings provide specific examples of PLC learning processes with regard to co-planning, co-teaching and co-assessment. Using achievement data, student work samples, teacher observations and self-reports, all teachers perceived that PLCs supported changes in their practices relevant to innovative contexts. Teachers indicated increased learning outcomes for students in terms of achievement, social skills, emotional aspects, independence and creativity. Significantly, the overall key impacts arising from effective PLCs operating within innovative contexts seem to be increased well-being of teachers and students.”

Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast. (2007). Evidence-based education request desk. (EBE #150). Browns Summit, NC: SERVE Center at University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “This paper is a response to a request asking for information on professional learning communities (PLCs) and their effect on teachers, students, and school culture. In order to respond to the request, a search for articles related to the subject was conducted using combinations of words such as ‘professional learning communities,’ ‘learning teams,’ ‘student outcomes,’ ‘school culture,’ ‘teacher impact,’ and ‘professional development.’ The majority of articles identified were case studies, school reform evaluations, and many anecdotal and ‘lessons learned’ articles. In addition, reports from two other Evidence-Based Education Request Desk (EBE) requests were utilized to compile information—(1) Request #70, on PLCs and student achievement which provided a review of the literature, study summaries, and findings; and (2) Request #151, on PLCs and the influence of leadership. This response summarizes findings of the literature review as related to PLCs and school culture, teacher impact, and student achievement. A chart with a brief summary of each article and study findings has been provided. Request #151—which provides an overview of PLCs, potential barriers, and the role of leadership on PLCs—has also been included.”

Rigelman, N. M., & Ruben, B. (2012). Creating foundations for collaboration in schools: Utilizing professional learning communities to support teacher candidate learning and visions of teaching. Teaching and Teacher Education: An International Journal of Research and Studies, 28(7), 979–989. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Despite widespread acknowledgment of the power of professional collaboration, the norm in most schools is teachers working in isolation. Our study examined the impact of multiple layers of professional collaboration intentionally integrated into a one-year preservice teacher education program working in two elementary schools. Analysis of 23 teacher candidates’ written reflections, focus group interviews, and classroom observations indicated that supported by collaboration with colleagues, they developed the skills and commitment to teach each student for understanding. Based on our research, we propose a shift in teacher education toward collaborative inquiry about teaching and learning within school/university partnerships.”

Sims, R. L., & Penny, G. R. (2015). Examination of a failed professional learning community. Journal of Education and Training Studies, 3(1), 39–45. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Schools are using various forms of professional learning communities (PLCs) in order to increase student achievement and improve educational practices through enhanced communication and collaboration among teachers. This study examined a PLC that had too narrow a focus and failed therefore to affect student achievement. A critical shortcoming of the PLC groups examined in the current study had to do with their narrow mission and definition as ‘Data Teams’ and consequentially a constricted focus on narrow metrics. A qualitative case study design was used to gather data through 6 interviews with PLC members and 3 observations of the PLC meetings. Interview data were coded and thematically analyzed based on the research questions posed in the study. The observational data were analyzed using pre-determined categories. The results indicated that the participants perceived the PLC, in its current state, as too focused on a single set of metrics and lacking the time, collaboration, and support needed to be effective.”

Taylor, M. J., Hallam, P. R., Charlton, C. T., & Wall, D. G. (2014). Formative assessment of collaborative teams (FACT): Development of a grade-level instructional team checklist. NASSP Bulletin, 98(1), 26–52. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) have become increasingly popular in schools. PLCs are groups of teachers, administrators, parents, and students who collaborate to improve their practices and focus on results (DuFour, 2004). Grade-level and department teachers participate in regularly scheduled collaborative team meetings; however, many school leaders lack suitable tools to evaluate fidelity to the PLC model. To address this deficit, we developed a tutorial checklist called the Formative Assessment of Collaborative Teams (FACT) through an action research approach. This article discusses the context of grade-level and department collaborative teams where much of the work of implementing the PLC model takes place. Working alongside practitioners in this context, we developed, implemented, and validated the FACT tool. This article discusses practitioners’ reactions to the tool during these processes, including observations conducted using FACT at several schools. The results of this process suggest that FACT is consistent with the elements of effective PLCs, confirming that it discriminates among collaborative teams within and across schools.”

Vescio, V., Ross, D., & Adams, A. (2008). A review of research on the impact of professional learning communities on teaching practice and student learning. Teaching and Teacher Education: An International Journal of Research and Studies, 24(1), 80–91. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “After an overview of the characteristics of professional learning communities (PLCs), this manuscript presents a review of 10 American studies and one English study on the impact of PLCs on teaching practices and student learning. Although, few studies move beyond self-reports of positive impact, a small number of empirical studies explore the impact on teaching practice and student learning. The collective results of these studies suggest that well-developed PLCs have positive impact on both teaching practice and student achievement. Implications of this research and suggestions for next steps in the efforts to document the impact of PLCs on teaching and learning are included.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

[(evaluation OR impact) AND (“professional learning community” OR “professional learning communities” or PLCs)]

Databases and Resources

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and PsychInfo.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When searching and selecting resources to include, we consider the criteria listed below.

  • Date of the Publication: References and resources published within the last 15 years, from 2003 to present, were included in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations and academic databases. Priority is also given to sources that provide free access to the full article.
  • Methodology: Priority is given to the most rigorous study designs, such as randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs, and we may also include descriptive data analyses, survey results, mixed-methods studies, literature reviews, or meta-analyses. Other considerations include the target population and sample, including their relevance to the question, generalizability, and general quality. Priority is given to publications that are peer-reviewed journal articles or reports reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations. If there are many research reports available, we select those with the strongest methodology, or the most recent of similar reports. When there are fewer resources available, we may include a broader range of information. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the West Region (Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory West at WestEd. This memorandum was prepared by REL West under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0012, administered by WestEd. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.