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Pacific Teacher PD Improves Student Comprehension, IES Study Finds

A teacher-training program called the Pacific Communities with High Performance in Literacy Development, or Pacific CHILD, improved reading and comprehension skills of 4th and 5th grade students, according to a new study by the U.S. Department of Education's Regional Educational Laboratory for the Pacific region.

For the study, "Effects of the Pacific CHILD Professional Development Program," researchers randomly assigned 45 schools in Hawaii, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, representing more than 3,000 students, to receive either intensive teacher training in 4th and 5th grades through the Pacific CHILD program, or conduct business as usual.

All three of these island communities have histories of limited teacher professional development support, high populations of English-language learners, and poor reading achievement. Only Hawaii participates in the National Assessment of Educational Progress—only one in four 4th graders there performed proficiently in reading on the test as of 2007—but all American Samoa and Northern Mariana Islands have been shown to achieve well below average in reading on the SAT-10. As of 2007, the most recent year for which data is available, American Samoan 4th graders scored on average at the 13th percentile nationally in reading, and the average 5th grader in the Northern Mariana Islands performed at the 37th percentile nationally in reading.

The components of Pacific CHILD program make sense based on previous teacher education research, but even within the experiment they proved difficult to pull off: 42 days worth of training over two years, including an initial 10-day institute, three-day mini-institutes, monthly lesson demonstrations, biweekly classroom observations, and weekly meetings with learning teams. Both the institutes and the meetings focus on practical model lessons paired with hands-on practice with students and immediate feedback from both coaches and peers. In reality, teachers in the participating schools received, on average, 31 days of training, and 41 percent of teachers in the participating groups received no training at all. Moreover, the mini-institutes and year-round activities were implemented differently and at different times in different schools.

Even taking that into account, the teachers in participating schools significantly improved their teaching knowledge and practice, researchers found. On a 40-point assessment of teacher knowledge, those at participating schools scored on average 27 points, 2 points higher than peers at other schools (a significant difference), and in classroom observations of their teaching practices, they were rated on average 2.2 out of five, compared with 1.85 for teachers at other schools.

Moreover, the teachers' growth translated into better student reading achievement. In 5th grade, researchers found the students of participating teachers in Hawaii and the Northern Mariana Islands scored on average 634.3 on the SAT 10 for reading comprehension, significantly better than the 629 average score of children in nonparticipating schools. There was no statistical difference in achievement found in American Samoa.

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