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

NCEE 2008-4030
September 2008

The PD Interventions Evaluated

The study team drew on the research on reading instruction as summarized by the National Reading Panel (NRP) (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development; NICHD 2000) and on the PD literature to determine the types of interventions to be evaluated.2 Several criteria guided the selection of both the models of interest (institute series and coaching) and the specific interventions. We sought PD interventions that:

  • Included content on the five components of reading instruction that were identified as “essential” by the National Reading Panel (NICHD 2000): phonemic awareness, phonics, and fluency (“word-level” content) and vocabulary and comprehension (“meaning-level” content);
  • Provided intensive PD—that is, PD of longer duration than is typical in similar districts;3
  • Promoted the use of three specific classroom practices—explicit instruction, guiding students in independent practice of reading activities, and differentiating instruction to meet individual students’ needs—that research suggests may support student learning (NICHD 2000);
  • Could be connected directly to the core reading program used in the district, through similarity in content focus, the sequencing and pacing of topics covered, and the use of teachers’ basal texts in some PD activities and exercises; and
  • Encouraged active teacher participation and practice as part of the PD.

In addition, we sought interventions that would be relevant to practitioners, because they were being used in districts and schools similar to those in the study. To provide the institutes and seminars, we selected Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS). To provide training for the in-school coaches, we selected the Consortium for Reading Excellence (CORE).4 (See the text box on the following page.)


2 See, for example, Ball 1996; Carpenter et al. 1989; Cohen and Hill 1998; Cohen and Hill 2001; Desimone et al. 2002; Elmore 2002; Garet et al. 2001; Grant, Peterson and Shojgreen-Downer 1996; Hargreaves and Fullan 1992; Kennedy 1998; Knapp 1997; Lieberman 1996; Lieberman and McLaughlin 1992; Little 1993; Loucks-Horsley et al. 1998; McCutchen et al. 2002; Stiles, Loucks-Horsley and Hewson 1996; Talbert and McLaughlin 1993.
3 Data on the number of hours of PD participation are available from two nationally representative surveys. As mentioned above, a survey of NCLB implementation indicated that 80 percent of early elementary teachers reported participating in 24 hours of PD in reading or less during 2003-2004 (U.S. Department of Education 2007). According to a survey conducted as part of an evaluation of Reading First, teachers in Reading First schools—where funds are provided to increase access to professional development—reported receiving on average 40 hours of PD in reading (U.S. Department of Education 2006). The Reading First survey also reported data on participation in coaching. According to the study, 86 percent of the teachers in Reading First schools reported receiving coaching on reading instruction, compared to 50 percent of teachers in non-Reading First Title I schools. Each full-time Reading First coach was responsible for providing support to an average of 22 grade K-3 teachers. In contrast, in the coaching condition (Treatment B) in the study reported here, each full time coach worked with an average of 5.9 teachers.
4 The teacher institute series provider (Sopris West’s LETRS team) was selected by the study staff during the proposal stage, after a review of PD providers meeting the study criteria. The coach training provider was selected after the study began, using a competitive process; study staff reviewed available coaching training providers and invited proposals from three organizations that had relevant experience in coach training. External advisors with expertise in PD or reading reviewed the proposals and recommended the selected provider.