Teacher Professional Development Can Make a Positive Impact on Students’ Writing Skills


Effective communication skills are crucial for students as they prepare for college, careers and civic engagement. Acknowledging the importance of writing, states across the nation have adopted new standards to advance students’ writing skills; however, most students are not experiencing instruction that aligns with those standards. Because the new standards require a new way of teaching, identifying supports to help teachers make substantial shifts in writing instruction is imperative.

To this end, the National Writing Project designed the College-Ready Writers Program (CRWP) to improve writing instruction—specifically argument writing instruction—in secondary schools. The program consists of teacher professional development that focuses on teaching students how to read and evaluate non-fiction sources that provide information and express a range of viewpoints about relevant and debatable issues, make their own claims about these issues, and support these claims in writing using evidence drawn from source material.

To learn whether CRWP could make a significant impact on both teacher instruction and student achievement, SRI Education researchers conducted a 2-year randomized controlled trial. Twelve National Writing Project sites provided CRWP professional development for teachers in 22 high-poverty rural school districts across 10 states. We found that CWRP has positive effects on both teacher practices and a validated measure of students’ argument writing.

At a recent public event, SRI and NWP presented highlights of the findings, which include:

  • An overwhelming number of English language arts teachers (76% across 22 districts) participated in at least 45 hours of professional development each year of the program.
  • The professional development significantly impacted the instruction students experienced, leading teachers to spend more time on complex writing tasks such as connecting evidence to an argument and less time on writing conventions.
  • Students in CRWP districts outperformed students in control districts on three key attributes of argument writing – content, structure, stance.

The positive results of this study are significant because previous research on the impact of teacher professional development on student achievement has yielded mixed results.

What sets CRWP apart from other professional development programs is that it consists of three interconnected components that support teachers to make changes in instruction quickly and effectively:

Intensive professional development, with supports for implementing new practices in the classroom. Educator-developed curriculum resources that focus on essential skills in argument writing. Formative assessment tools that enable teachers to analyze students’ skills and plan for additional instruction.

These three components, which could be locally adapted, reinforce each other by providing teachers with a clear picture of how to teach differently for effective argument writing—catalyzing a process of helping teachers change their instruction in meaningful ways in a short amount of time. By working closely with the National Writing Project throughout the evaluation period, SRI and Inverness Research Associates provided essential data that informed the CRWP leadership team’s efforts to ensure consistent program implementation and enable teachers to change their instruction relatively quickly.

The new state standards across the country call for a substantially different approach to instruction on a particularly complex task—writing an argument supported by reasoning and developed through the use of evidence from source material. These evaluation findings suggest that CRWP can be effective in supporting these kinds of shifts in instruction in diverse settings.

Moving forward, SRI is working with the National Writing Project to launch a new study for a 1-year version of CRWP that aims to be as effective in supporting the development of our nation’s teachers in order to help students develop the skills and capacities that will ensure their success in college, the workplace, and civic engagement.

This study was conducted by SRI International with funds provided by the National Writing Project under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. However, the contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.

Read more from SRI