PD in middle school math not a quick fix

iStock_000018120666XSmallRational numbers are a big stumbling block to learning algebra for students in grades 4-7 and beyond. But more professional development (PD)for teachers on rational numbers might not offer such an easy solution, says a new federal study.

Students of 7th-grade teachers who participated in the first year of a 2-year professional development (PD) program on teaching rational numbers did not perform significantly better than controls, says the study. Nor did teachers demonstrate an increase in their knowledge of rational numbers compared to teachers who did not participate.

The National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance which commissioned the Middle School Mathematics Professional Development Impact Study will report on the results after teachers complete the full 2 years of the program.

Teachers in 6 of the 12 districts that participated in the study received about 68 hours of PD on effectively teaching positive rational numbers. The teachers attended a 3-day summer institute then a series of one-day seminars and received in-school coaching to help them apply what they were learning to the classroom. Teachers in the other 6 school districts served as controls. Researchers report that teachers who participated in the middle school math PD program did engage more frequently in activities that elicited student thinking.

“On average, teachers in the treatment group engaged in such activities 3.45 times per hour, compared with 2.42 times per hour for teachers in the control group.”

However, the PD program did not have a statistically significant impact on teachers’ use of representations or on how often teachers engaged in activities that focused on mathematical reasoning. On average, students in the study schools entered 7th grade substantially below grade level, scoring at the 19th percentile on the study’s measure of achievement in rational numbers.

The 12 school districts in 9 states that participated in the study provided 4 to 8 study schools for a total sample size of 77 schools, 195 teachers and 11,479 students. The study focused on districts using one of 3 specific math curricula so that the PD could be designed to be relevant to what the teachers were using in the classroom, Connected Math, Glencoe and PH Mathematics.

The average rate of student eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch in the study schools was 66%. Most (77%) of the schools were designated Title I.

Middle School Mathematics Professional Development Impact Study, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, NCEE 2010-4010, April 10, 2010.

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