Principal Investigators
Chandra Orrill, UMass Dartmouth (PI)
Andrew Izsak, University of Georgia (Co-PI)
Allan Cohen, University of Georgia (Co-PI)
National Science Foundation Research and Evaluation on Education in Science and Engineering Program
2007 - 2011
Award: REC 0633975


The connection between teacher professional development and student achievement is not well understood. Gaining insight into this connection is crucial if we are to help in-service teachers develop further understandings of content that they can use to support their students' learning. We propose to develop and refine methods for empirically examining relationships among teacher professional development, teacher learning, teacher practice, and student achievement. We will do so by examining three questions as we offer the NSF-funded InterMath professional development program to middle-grades teachers in Atlanta Public Schools:

  1. What do the teachers learn from InterMath experiences?
  2. If the teachers learn from InterMath, do their instructional practices change as a result?
  3. If the teachers' practices change, are there measurable changes in students' achievement?

The proposed project will concentrate on the InterMath-Rational Numbers course, a 50-hour course aimed at developing teacher content knowledge about numbers including fractions, decimals, percents, ratios, and proportions. The course provides teachers experiences as learners in classes where the instructor models reform-oriented practices such as asking for multiple solution strategies for open-middle problems. The course also makes regular use of technologies such as spreadsheets and Graphing Calculator software.

We will study four implementations of the InterMath-Rational Numbers course that we offer to 6th- and 7th-grade teachers, and we will compare these teachers to those in control groups. Primary data for answering Question 1 will come from repeated measures using the NSF-funded Content Knowledge for Teaching Mathematics assessment developed at the University of Michigan, as well as observations of and interviews with teachers while taking the InterMath course. Primary data for answering Question 2 will come from surveys and classroom observations before and after the InterMath course. Primary data for answering Question 3 will come from state-wide achievement tests and an instrument we develop to measure students' conceptual understanding and problem-solving skills. A unique aspect of our design is the use of latent group analyses to detect subgroups of teachers who evidence similar response patterns across items on the Content Knowledge for Teaching Mathematics assessment. We will use these subgroups to construct matched treatment and control groups. Thus we will collect an extensive body of data with which to gain insight into the links between professional development, teacher learning, teacher practice, and student achievement.

Intellectual Merit

The proposed work is vital for improving educational opportunities for mathematics learners. Growing bodies of evidence show that professional development can have a positive affect on teacher knowledge and that teacher content knowledge is positively correlated to student achievement. However, there is a lack of rigorous research that attempts to understand how professional development, teacher learning, teacher practice, and student achievement are connected to each other. We will construct methods that take steps toward systematically examining the affects of professional development on student achievement.

Broader Impact

Broader impacts of the proposed study include (a) the development of graduate students as researchers capable of conducting their own lines of inquiry, (b) supporting 6th- and 7th-grade teachers in a large, urban predominantly African-American school district, and (c) dissemination of results within multiple communities (e.g., mathematics education, learning sciences, educational measurement, teacher education). Further, the methods that we are proposing to develop as part of this study can be applied to other professional development settings allowing for the development of a more robust image of professional development as a field rather than simply focusing on professional development in mathematics education.