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Evaluation Studies of the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance

Elementary School Reading Professional Development Impact Evaluation

Contractors: AIR and MDRC

Background/Research Questions:

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 FY08, 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 important information for districts and schools using grants for this aspect of the 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 draw on findings from the National Reading Panel and are of significantly longer than average duration. The study examined:

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


The two interventions evaluated were (1) an 8-day, content-focused institute series that begins in the summer and goes 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 coach training 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 persist) using measures of professional development implementation quality, teacher knowledge and practice, and student achievement obtained from administrative records.

Duration: 5.75 years (September 2003–May 2009)

Current Status: Completed. The report was released in September 2008 (see An evaluation brief that synthesizes findings from this study and two other IES studies of teacher PD was released in November 2016 (see

Key Findings

  • 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.