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Impact of Two Professional Development Interventions on Early Reading Instruction and Achievement

NCEE 2008-4030
September 2008

Executive Summary

Professional development (PD) of teachers is viewed as a vital tool in school improvement efforts (Hill 2007). The importance of professional development (PD) for teachers is underscored in several major federal education initiatives, including the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) statute. For example, Title II of NCLB provided $585 million to states and districts for PD activities during the 2002-2003 school year alone in order to meet the goal of having a highly qualified teacher in every classroom (U.S. Department of Education, 2005). Two years later, Title II funding for PD remained at over $500 million (U.S. Department of Education 2007).

Are teachers receiving the PD that they need? A recent national study of state and local NCLB implementation indicated that 80 percent of elementary teachers reported participating in 24 hours of PD on reading instruction or less during the 2003–2004 school year and summer (U.S. Department of Education 2007). Reading and PD experts have raised a concern that this level of PD is not intensive enough to be effective, and that it does not focus enough on subject-matter knowledge (Cohen and Hill 2001; Fletcher and Lyon 1998; Foorman and Moats 2004; Garet, Porter, Desimone, Birman, and Yoon 2001).

To help states and districts make informed decisions about the PD they implement to improve reading instruction, the U.S. Department of Education commissioned the Early Reading PD Interventions Study to examine the impact of two research-based PD interventions for reading instruction: (1) a content-focused teacher institute series that began in the summer and continued through much of the school year (treatment A) and (2) the same institute series plus in-school coaching (treatment B). The study team consists of AIR, MDRC, and REDA International, Inc., who conducted the research activities, and Sopris West and the Consortium on Reading Excellence (CORE), who delivered the teacher and coach PD.

The Early Reading PD Interventions Study used an experimental design to test the effectiveness of the two PD interventions in improving the knowledge and practice of teachers and the reading achievement of their students in high-poverty schools. It focused specifically on second grade reading because (1) this is the earliest grade in which enough districts collect the standardized reading assessment data needed for the study; and (2) later grades involve supplementary (pull out) instruction, which was outside the scope of the study. The study was implemented in 90 schools in six districts (a total of 270 teachers), with equal numbers of schools randomly assigned in each district to treatment A, treatment B, or the control group, which participated only in the usual PD offered by the district. This design allowed the study team to determine the impact of each of the two PD interventions by comparing each treatment group’s outcomes with those of the control group, and also to determine the impact of the coaching above and beyond the institute series by comparing treatment group B with treatment group A.

This report describes the implementation of the PD interventions tested, and examines their impacts at the end of the year the PD was delivered. In addition, we investigate the possible lagged effect of the interventions, based on outcomes data collected the year after the PD interventions concluded.

The study produced the following results:

  • 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. Teachers in schools that were randomly assigned to receive the study’s PD scored significantly higher on the teacher knowledge test than did teachers in control schools, with standardized mean difference effect sizes (hereafter referred to as “effect sizes”) of 0.37 for the institute series alone (treatment A) and 0.38 for the institute series plus coaching (treatment B). Teachers in both treatment A and treatment B used explicit instruction to a significantly greater extent during their reading instruction blocks than teachers in control schools (effect size of 0.33 for treatment A and 0.53 for treatment B). However, there were no statistically significant differences in achievement between students in the treatment and control schools.
  • The added effect of the coaching intervention on teacher practices in the implementation year was not statistically significant. The effect sizes for the added impact of coaching were 0.21 for using explicit instruction, 0.17 for encouraging independent student activity, and 0.03 for differentiating instruction, but these effects may be due to chance.
  • There were no statistically significant impacts on measured teacher or student outcomes in the year following the treatment.