What role do principals play in improving teaching and student achievement?

A new report from the Institute of Education Sciences in the US has found that an intensive approach to helping principals (headteachers) improve their leadership practices did not improve pupil achievement or change principal practices as intended.

The study looked at the effectiveness of a professional development (PD) programme for elementary (primary) school principals that focused on helping them to conduct structured observations of teachers’ classroom teaching and provide targeted feedback. It provided nearly 200 hours of PD over two years, half of it through individualised coaching. One hundred schools from eight districts in five US states took part in the study. Within each district, schools with similar characteristics were paired together, and within each pair, one school was randomly assigned to participate in the programme for two years while the other did not.

To measure the effects on pupil achievement, the researchers compared pupil test scores in grades 3 to 5 (Years 4 to 6) for both years of programme implementation plus one additional school year. They found that, on average, pupils had similar achievement in English or maths whether they were in schools that received the principal PD programme or not.

The results of the study also found that although the programme was implemented as planned, principals did not increase the number of times they observed teachers. In fact, teachers whose principals received the PD reported receiving less frequent teaching support and feedback than teachers whose principals did not receive the PD.

Source: The effects of a principal professional development program focused on instructional leadership (October 2019), Institute of Education Sciences, US Department of Education

Professional development for early childhood language and literacy

In the field of education, professional development (PD) is intended to improve both classroom teaching and children’s learning. A new study, published in Journal of Educational Psychology, looks at what effect PD has when used at scale with large numbers of educators.

In this large-scale randomised controlled trial, Shayne B Piasta and colleagues examined the effectiveness of a language and literacy PD programme on both teacher and child outcomes in early childhood education. More than 500 teachers across one US state took part in the trial and were randomly assigned to one of three groups: professional development with coaching, professional development without coaching, or a comparison group. Teachers in the PD groups received 30 hours of state-sponsored language and literacy professional development, with those assigned to the coaching groups also receiving ongoing individualised coaching throughout the academic year. Teachers in the comparison group also received state-sponsored PD, but in other subjects.

The results of the trial suggest that PD affected only a few aspects of classroom language and literacy teaching practices relative to the comparison group, and did not affect children’s literacy learning. PD with coaching showed a small positive impact on the quantity of phonological awareness, while both PD with and without coaching had a small positive impact on the quality of teaching in phonological awareness and writing.

Source: At-scale, state-sponsored language and literacy professional development: Impacts on early childhood classroom practices and children’s outcomes (June 2019), Journal of Educational Psychology

Targeted Reading Intervention and struggling readers

Targeted Reading Intervention (TRI) is a programme that uses webcam technology to allow kindergarten and first grade (Year 1 and Year 2) teachers to help struggling readers while being observed by a coach who gives them real-time feedback as they work with a pupil. TRI trains teachers in their strategies during a three-day workshop in the summer, with webcam observations and feedback during the school year.

Researchers at the University of Delaware and the University of North Carolina evaluated the effect of TRI in a two-year randomised evaluation  to examine its one-year effects on struggling readers, and to examine if having a teacher teach the programme for two years affected pupil achievement.

The study took place in kindergarten and first grade (Year 1 and Year 2) classrooms in ten schools in high-poverty south eastern rural counties in the US. Subjects were equivalent at baseline on standardised testing in the autumn, and randomisation occurred at the classroom level. During the two years of the study, a total of 50 kindergarten (Year 1) classrooms (26 treatment, 24 control) and 50 first grade (Year 2) classrooms (29 treatment, 21 control) at each school were randomised, and then three struggling readers from each classroom were selected to either the treatment or control condition in each year of the study. In total, 305 pupils were assigned to receive TRI training, and 251 pupils served in the untreated control group. Treatment pupils worked with teachers one-to-one, 15 minutes a day every day for six to eight weeks. Spring post-tests showed that struggling readers who received TRI showed greater gains than struggling readers in the control condition (effect size =+0.26). Longevity of teaching the programme did not show any significant effect on pupil achievement.

Researchers also report on the results for the subset of pupils experiencing the programme who had English as an additional language, which may be found here.

Source: Improving struggling readers’ early literacy skills through a tier 2 professional development program for rural classroom teachers: The Targeted Reading Intervention (June2018), The Elementary School Journal 2018 118:4, 525-548

The effect of teacher coaching on teaching and learning

Matthew A Kraft and colleagues conducted a meta-analysis of the causal evidence on the effect of teacher coaching on teaching and learning. Their paper, published in the Review of Educational Research, reviewed 60 studies on teacher coaching programmes conducted after 2006 that measured the impact of teacher coaching on either teaching (measured using tools such as the Classroom Assessment Scoring System or the Early Language and Literacy Classroom Observation) or pupil academic performance (measured by standardised tests).

Their results found that sustained coaching improves both classroom teaching and pupil achievement, with pooled effect sizes of +0.49 standard deviations for teaching and +0.18 standard deviations for academic achievement.

However, the effectiveness of a teacher coaching programme seems to be determined by the number of participants. When studies were divided into programmes that had fewer than 100 participants and those that had more than 100 participants, the impact on teaching was nearly double for the smaller programmes than for programmes with more than 100 participants. For pupil achievement, the smaller programmes showed an impact of nearly three times that of the larger programmes.

Source:  The effect of teacher coaching on instruction and achievement: A meta-analysis of the causal evidence (February 2018), Review of Educational Research, Vol 88, Issue 4

The impact of professional development in early childhood education

Franziska Egert and colleagues in Germany and Amsterdam have conducted a review of the effects of professional development (PD) for early childhood educators on programme quality and children’s educational outcomes.

Studies were only included if they addressed quality of child care or child development, included early childhood teachers (including preschool, kindergarten and centre-based care), were quantitative, were experimental or quasi-experimental, reported effect sizes or data and addressed children 0–7 years old. This yielded 36 studies of 42 programmes evaluating quality ratings, and nine studies of 10 programmes evaluating both quality ratings and pupil outcomes.

Results showed that professional development improved the external quality ratings (as evaluated using the Classroom Assessment Scoring System, Early Language and Literacy Classroom Observation, Environmental Rating Scales and Individualized Classroom Assessment Scoring System) of early childhood education (effect size=+0.68), with programmes providing 45–60 PD hours having the greatest impact on classroom practice as compared to programmes offering fewer or more hours. This was true regardless of whether teachers held a university degree or not. Further, programmes that solely used coaching were almost three times as effective as other programmes. A second meta-analysis of a subset of studies (n=486 teachers, 4,504 children) showed that improvement in the quality of early childhood education programmes was correlated with improvements in child development (effect size=+0.14) as determined by language and literacy scores, maths scores, social-behavioural ratings, and assessment of cognition, knowledge and school readiness.

Source: Impact of in-service professional development programs for early childhood teachers on quality ratings and child outcomes: a meta-analysis (January 2018), Review of Educational Research, Vol 88, Issue 3

Evaluation of Challenge the Gap

An evaluation of the Challenge the Gap (CtG) programme for the Education Endowment Foundation found no evidence that the programme increased average achievement for either primary or secondary pupils overall.

Challenge the Gap is a two-year school improvement programme that aims to help schools improve the achievement of their disadvantaged pupils through a professional development programme for staff. The evaluation conducted by The University of Manchester, involved 21,041 pupils from 104 schools (64 primary schools and 39 secondary schools). Around 24% of pupils in the primary schools and 16% in the secondary schools were eligible for free school meals. The evaluation assessed the impact on all participating schools using 2015 Key Stage 2 or Key Stage 4 results. CtG schools were compared to schools with a similar socio-demographic profile.

No evidence was found that CtG increased the average achievement for either primary or secondary school pupils, overall. For children eligible for free school meals (FSM), those in CtG primary schools made two months’ additional progress (average effect size = +0.10) compared to similar children in non-CtG schools. In CtG secondary schools, FSM-eligible pupils made two months’ less progress compared to similar pupils in non-CtG secondary schools (average effect size = -0.10). The smaller number of FSM-eligible pupils in the trial means that these results are less secure than the overall findings.

Source: Challenge the Gap: Evaluation report and executive summary (July 2017), Education Endowment Foundation