A Randomized Trial of Teacher Development in Elementary Science: First-Year Achievement Effects

Borman, Geoffrey D.
Gamoran, Adam
Bowdon, Jill
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This article describes 1st-year experimental effects of a large-scale reform providing professional development to elementary school teachers to implement an extended, inquiry-oriented science curriculum. Known as “immersion teaching” because it “immerses” teachers and students in the full cycle of scientific inquiry, this approach developed through a partnership involving university-based science and mathematics content experts and educators and K-12 educators from the Los Angeles Unified School District. Multilevel analyses, which examined school-level effects of assignment to the professional development intervention, nested Grade 4 students and their science achievement outcomes within the 80 study schools. The analyses revealed a statistically significant negative 1st-year treatment effect of school-level assignment to the initiative on the key science achievement outcome.We also tested whether the treatment had differential effects for English language learners, schools with large proportions of English language learners, and students of new teachers. We found an interaction effect of the treatment by teacher experience level for the teachers who were the primary target of the intervention, with the treatment having positive effects for novice teachers (3 years of experience or less) but a larger, negative effect for veteran teachers. We explore analytically three sets of explanations for the unexpected negative main effect of treatment: potential statistical and design artifacts, possible misalignment between the assessments and content of the treatment, and practical issues related to implementation of the treatment.

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