Innovative professional development program produces impacts on preK to third grade teachers’ confidence, knowledge, and practice with sustained outcomes.
In partnership with the Erikson Institute Early Math Collaborative, SRI evaluated the impact of teachers’ participation in a 2-year professional development (PD) intervention to improve teachers’ knowledge, attitudes, and instructional practice in math across prekindergarten (preK) to third grade classrooms in the city of Chicago. Compared to teachers receiving business as usual PD, participation in Erikson’s Whole-Teacher PD led to robust changes in teacher practices after 1 year and were sustained at the 4-year follow-up observations. Intervention teachers also reported higher confidence in their ability to use high-quality math instructional practices after completing the 2-year PD compared to business-as-usual teachers. Limited impacts on student learning were observed. The findings suggest high-quality PD focusing on teachers’ instructional practices and pedagogical content knowledge, as well as their dispositions toward math, can lead to significant changes in teacher behavior across preK and early elementary grades.
Overview of project
SRI evaluated the impact of teachers’ participation in a professional development intervention to improve teachers’ knowledge, attitudes, and instructional strategies in math across prekindergarten (preK) to third grade classrooms. Under a subcontract from Erikson Institute, SRI served as the independent evaluator for the Innovations in Early Mathematics Professional Development Program: PreK to Third Grade (Innovations in Early Mathematics Professional Development) project. The project was developed and evaluated with support from a 5-year Investing in Innovation (i3) grant from the U.S. Department of Education awarded to Erikson Institute from 2010 to 2015.
Professional development (PD) is generally designed to change three aspects of teaching—dispositions toward subject matter (beliefs, confidence), content knowledge, and skills around classroom practice—in order to strengthen teachers’ capacity to support and improve learning in students. However, the PD in math available to early childhood teachers is limited and largely ineffective. Curriculum-specific training tends to be shallow, emphasizing activities and neglecting deep conceptual understanding. Further, the dominant model of in-service PD is a 1-day workshop; continuing support is rarely available for teacher implementation of new practices. Lastly, PD effectiveness is limited by its lack of a conceptual framework that specifies dimensions of teacher change and guides program design. Given these issues, the goal of the Innovations in Early Mathematics Professional Development project was to develop and test the impact of a whole-teacher PD intervention for preK to third grade teachers on teacher and student outcomes. Analogous to the “whole child” approach in early childhood education, the Whole Teacher Approach that guided the PD program suggests that in order to make real changes in teaching, PD needs to address gaps in teacher knowledge, but must be designed to consciously involve teaching practice in learning, and to address teachers’ attitudes about teaching and content throughout implementation.
The Innovations in Early Mathematics Professional Development project was a 2-year intervention that included four types of teacher PD experiences: learning labs during the school year, summer institutes, coaching, and grade-level meetings each aimed at improving teachers’ positive dispositions, math content knowledge, and instructional practice. A fifth type (leadership academies) targeted administrators such as principals and preschool program directors. The intervention lasted 4 years with the intensive PD occurring in the first 2 years. During the third and fourth years of the PD intervention, the focus changed to efforts to build capacity at the school-level in creating a learning community around teaching and learning math.
SRI designed and conducted a quasi-experimental study that included a matched comparison group of nonparticipating schools and teachers (business as usual comparison). The evaluation sample included approximately 160 preK through third-grade teachers across 16 schools in the Chicago Public School district, with 80 teachers across 8 schools selected to participate in the PD intervention and 80 teachers in the business-as-usual condition. The evaluation examined impacts of the PD intervention on teachers’ dispositions (attitudes, beliefs, and confidence), instructional practice, and content knowledge as well as student math outcomes.
Compared to teachers receiving business-as-usual PD, participation in Erikson’s Whole-Teacher PD led to observed changes in teacher practice after 1-year (ES = 0.65) which were sustained at the 4-year follow-up observations (ES = 1.01) for remaining teachers. Intervention teachers also reported higher confidence in their ability to use high-quality math instruction practices after completing the intensive 2-year PD compared to business-as-usual teachers (ES = 0.51) and at the 4-year follow-up wave (ES = 0.71). Intervention teachers demonstrated higher math content knowledge on the number sense component of the knowledge measure compared to business-as-usual teachers at the 3-year follow-up wave (ES = 0.48).
Limited impacts on student learning were observed. However, there were small impacts on the preK student subsample on a measure of mathematical knowledge and skills. That is, there was a significant treatment by age interaction for the Woodcock-Johnson – Applied Problems, showing that younger (but not older) children who received 2 years of the intervention demonstrated a greater rate of growth in scores relative to their peers in the comparison group, even after controlling for baseline demographics and test scores. In other words, after 2 years of intervention, children who were 3- and 4-years old when Innovations began, benefited from their teachers’ participation in ways that older children (60, 72, 84, and 96 months old) did not.
The findings suggest high-quality PD that focuses on teachers’ instructional practices and pedagogical content knowledge, as well as their dispositions toward math can lead to significant changes in teacher behavior across the early elementary grades.