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Educator Development

Is Student Learning Directly Impacted by Teacher PD?

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 be engaged in continuous knowledge building.

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 job-embedded collaborative 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.

The Participate PD structure reflects the whole Educator Development 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.
  • Upload the evidence of classroom practice, student work and learning.

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.

Written by Julie Keane and Tania Tani

Julie Keane is Director of Research and Evaluation at Participate. Follow her on Twitter: @juliekeane.

Tania Tani is a researcher at Participate. Follow her on Twitter: @Tania_Tani26.