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Research Suggests Professional Development Delivers Better Student Scores

When teachers participate in professional development, students do better in assessments. That's the conclusion of a study undertaken by researchers at the University of Utah and Brigham Young University.

In "Multi-State, Quasi-Experimental Study of the Impact of Internet-Based, On-Demand Professional Learning on Student Performance," the researchers examined math and reading scores for students before and after teachers in their schools began using a commercially available online professional development program.

The work was undertaken by Steve Shaha, a professor with the Center for Public Policy and Administration at U Utah, and Heather Ellsworth, a lab attendant with Brigham Young. Both also do work for School Improvement Network, the company that produces PD 360, the online professional development materials being used by teachers in the study. As the study explains, PD 360 is an "on-demand, Internet-accessible product suite through which educators can participate in a full range of passive and active capabilities, ranging from viewing instructional videos on teaching techniques, to participating in communities of other users of the product suite, to posting and downloading PD-related materials."

Shaha and Ellsworth studied a random sampling of 169 schools representing 73 districts in 19 states. Student performance data was gathered from publicly available Web sources and district-supplied Excel spreadsheets for two consecutive school years, the one just prior to school adoption of the professional development tool and the year in which it was made available to educators.

The study found that schools in which educators were "highly engaged" in professional learning had a 19 percent gain in student math scores and a 15 percent gain in reading scores. Schools in the same districts without the professional development saw a 4 percent increase in math and a 2.5 percent increase in reading.

"Taken as a whole," the researchers concluded, "the findings from this research support the high-participation use of Internet-based, on-demand PD for improving teacher efficacy and improving student performance. Given the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of this PD delivery approach, such methods should be considered as credible strategies for addressing needs for continuously improved teacher efficacy and better student achievement."

This study was published in the December 2013 issue of the International Journal of Evaluation and Research in Education.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.