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Elementary School Reading Professional Development Impact Study

Contract Information

Current Status:

This study has been completed.


September 2003 – May 2009



Contract Number:



American Institutes for Research

Title II, Part A, the Improving Teacher State Formula Grants program, is the primary federal funding under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to support a high-quality teacher in every classroom. The program, funded at $2.9 billion in Fiscal Year 2010, targets high-poverty districts and funds a broad array of allowable activities such as support for certification including alternative certification, teacher mentoring and induction, intensive professional development, recruitment, retention, and merit-based teacher and principal pay strategies as well as class size reduction. This study of professional development in early reading provides an important source of information for the professional development aspect of the Title II program.

Professional development (PD) of teachers is viewed as a vital tool in school improvement efforts, but experts have raised a concern that much currently implemented PD is not sufficiently intensive or focused on subject matter knowledge to be effective. This study tested two PD interventions that drew on findings from the National Reading Panel and were of significantly longer than average duration.

  • What kind of impacts did these specific professional development strategies have on teacher knowledge and practice, and on student achievement in reading?
  • Did more intensive methods produce stronger impacts?

The two interventions evaluated were (1) an 8-day, content-focused institute series that began in the summer and went through the school year, based on the Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) curriculum (treatment A) and (2) the institute series plus coaching during the school year by an in-school reading specialist, with coaches trained by the Consortium for Reading Excellence (CORE) (treatment B).

Ninety schools in six districts were recruited to take part in the study, with a focus on second grade teachers (270) and their students (more than 5,000). In each district, schools were randomly assigned in equal numbers to receive the institute series only (treatment A), the institute series plus coaching (treatment B), or the professional development normally provided by the district (the control condition). Data were collected during the implementation year (2005–06) and one additional year (to determine if any impacts persisted) using measures of professional development implementation quality, teacher knowledge and practice, and student achievement obtained from administrative records.

A report, titled Impact of Two Professional Development Interventions on Early Reading Instruction and Achievement, was released in September 2008.

Other publications from this study are listed below.


On the Reading PD Program:

  • Although there were positive impacts on teacher's knowledge of scientifically based reading instruction and on one of the three instructional practices promoted by the study PD, neither PD intervention resulted in significantly higher student test scores at the end of the one-year treatment.
  • The institute series plus in-school coaching did not produce a significantly greater impact on teacher knowledge or practice than the institute series alone.
  • There were no statistically significant impacts on measured teacher or student outcomes in the year following the treatment.

On Three Content-Focused PD Programs Tested Across Three IES Evaluations:

  • The PD improved teachers' knowledge and some aspects of their practice.
  • Improving teachers' knowledge and practice did not lead to positive impacts on student achievement.
  • Most of the measured aspects of teachers' knowledge and practice were not correlated with student achievement.
  • The consistent pattern of findings suggests that future studies might seek to better understand on what aspects of teacher knowledge and practice PD should focus, and how PD can achieve a larger impact on knowledge and practice that also impacts student achievement.