Two professional-development approaches based on a popular early reading program increased teachers’ knowledge of literacy development and their use of explicit reading instruction, but had little effect on achievement among 2nd graders in high-poverty schools, a federal study has found.
The study, by the Washington-based American Institutes of Research, was commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education to help districts decide how best to use some of the nearly $600 million in federal funding for professional development under the No Child Left Behind Act.
The study involved 270 2nd grade teachers in 90 schools in six urban districts in the 2005-06 school year. Schools in each district were randomly assigned to one of three groups.
One group attended an eight-day seminar based on the Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling, or LETRS, program, which is designed to build teachers’ foundational knowledge of literacy concepts, research, and effective instruction.
A second group also attended the seminar, but received 60 more hours of coaching from the Consortium on Reading Excellence, a consulting group based in Berkeley, Calif.
A third group did not receive the training, but participated in the districts’ regular professional development.
The interventions were offered to 2nd grade teachers because schools already had a way to assess students’ progress at that grade level, according to Michael S. Garet, AIR’s lead researcher for the study.
The creator of LETRS, however, said that introducing the training at the 2nd grade level misses the critical period in students’ literacy development. The study, she said, also failed to consider the multiple factors—from school leadership to sound instructional materials and assessments—that are necessary for raising student achievement. She said it is unclear whether those factors were in place in the districts studied.
Developer Questions Findings
“If you want to set yourself up for having no impact, target the 2nd or 3rd graders without doing the groundwork with these kids in kindergarten and 1st grade,” said Louisa Moats, a prominent reading researcher who developed LETRS. “Initiatives that are well-formulated and well-conceived include professional development as one aspect of a number of things that need to be in place in order for these changes and hoped-for outcomes to be realized. I never make the claim that LETRS training alone is going to somehow have a magical impact on what people do.”
Mr. Garet agrees that the conditions were not always ideal, but that they were typical of the challenges faced by high-need schools. “There were many things that worked despite the conditions,” he said. “So there’s reason to believe that with more attention to some of the features of professional development, one could translate the effects on teacher knowledge and practice into effects on achievement.”
A version of this article appeared in the October 01, 2008 edition of Education Week