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Is student learning directly impacted by teacher PD?

by Julie Keane, on 1/10/18 1:55 PM

" I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.”   — Albert Einstein

Learning is a complex, continuous process influenced by socioeconomic factors, school environments and most importantly teacher and classroom practices.

Numerous research studies have demonstrated the positive relationship between quality teaching and student learning. It is important to ensure that educators have ongoing professional development (PD) opportunities to improve their practice and stay engaged in continuous learning.

The difficulty is showing evidence that specific PD opportunities have direct impact on student achievement and/or learning. Most PD opportunities are far off from the classroom and are not designed to include implementation with students as part of the learning experience.

The most effective way to ensure student impact is through providing collaborative, community-based professional development.

The Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at North Carolina State University and Participate have partnered to study a collaborative PD model built upon a theory of action.

community of practice-01


Our approach

The Participate PD structure reflects the entire professional learning cycle where teachers:

  • Engage in inquiry-based investigations integrated into a competency-based online course.
  • Collaborate with other teachers.
  • Create a learning product, such as lesson plans or student activities.
  • Implement and test their learning product directly in the classroom with students.
  • Reflect on the process through one-to-one peer review.
  • Upload the evidence of classroom practice, student work and learning.

Our research

To study impact on student engagement and learning, Participate and the Friday Institute began with surveys of active teachers about their students.

Teachers reported that students were more engaged and were developing core college and career-ready skills.

Given this trend, the study was extended to analyze if the professional development was impacting more traditional outcomes of student learning.

The research team ran a correlational analysis study that included North Carolina schools active in Participate professional development courses. This study explored the relationship between PD participation and growth in student achievement using data from NC accountability service. We measured changes in NC EVAAS growth index rather than test score at a particular time to control for socioeconomic and school-related factors. The results show:

  • A statistically significant positive correlation* between PD participation and change in grade level proficiency (GLP) from school year 2014–15 to 2015–16. *(Correlation coefficient=0.372406, p-value = 0.05)
  • Higher participation in PD modules is associated with a positive increase in the percentage of students who met grade level proficiency from 2014–15 to 2015–16.

This statistically significant correlation is an exciting pattern that we will continue to explore as our programs expand nationally. Additional student learning data across content areas and critical literacies are being collected to further test the theory of action.

It certainly speaks to the strength of a collaborative professional development model that incorporates best practices of teacher reflection, action research and classroom experimentation.

For more about the impact of Participate's PD and school programs, see our 2016 Impact Report.

Julie Keane is Director of Research and Evaluation at Participate. Follow her on Twitter @juliekeaneTania Tani is a researcher at Participate

Topics:Online learning


About Participate

Participate combines your favorite parts of social media and online learning to connect community members, grow organizational impact and support scalable learning opportunities, all in one place.

Trusted by school districts, nonprofits and education organizations across the nation, Participate takes existing professional learning initiatives and builds a digital community that provides value for your community members and meaningful impact for your organization.

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