Fidelity Of Implementation Proves Key To Achieving Student Results 

By Learning Forward
Categories: Implementation, Outcomes, Research, Standards for Professional Learning
February 2015
What the Study Says A three-year, randomized controlled trial study demonstrates that, when implemented with high levels of fidelity, the Responsive Classroom approach results in achievement gains in reading and math for 5th graders in schools participating in the intervention for three years. For students with initial low math achievement, the effect is greater than for students with initial high achievement. The study emphasizes the importance of fidelity of implementation. Study description The study examined the relationship between the specific teaching practices associated with Responsive Classroom, a professional development program, and 2nd- through 5th-grade students’ achievement in reading and math. Teachers developed the “capacity to create a caring, well-managed classroom environment characterized by respectful social interactions and academically engaging instruction” (p. 569). This study builds on

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Joellen Killion

Joellen Killion ( is senior advisor to Learning Forward. In each issue of JSD, Killion explores a recent research study to help practitioners understand the impact of particular professional learning practices on student outcomes.

At a Glance

In a randomized controlled field trial, Responsive Classroom, a professional development intervention that strengthens teaching strategies to support students’ social, academic, and self-regulatory skills, resulted in positive effects on 2nd- through 5th-grade student achievement in math and reading when implementation fidelity was high.

The Study

Rimm-Kaufman, S., Larsen, R., Baroody, A., Curby, T., Ko, M., Thomas, J., Merritt, E., Abry, T., & DeCoster, J. (2014, June). Efficacy of the Responsive Classroom approach: Results from a 3-year, longitudinal randomized controlled trial. American Educational Research Journal, 51(3), 567-603.

What This Means for Practitioners 

Fidelity of implementation is a continuing challenge in professional learning. This study demonstrates that sustained focus and support over three or more years is necessary to achieve effects for teachers and students.

When educators learn new practices, especially those grounded in research, it is their accurate and frequent use of the practices rather than their knowledge about the practices that influence results for students. In this study, professional learning to prepare and support teachers to use Responsive Classroom practices included multiple designs, such as summer workshops, coaching, access to ongoing support, and print and electronic resources. Deep change requires intensive professional learning and implementation support over a multiyear period.

In addition to professional learning and implementation support for teachers, school administrators engaged in workshops, coaching, and fall and spring planning meetings to focus their attention on schoolwide efforts to implement the new practices.

Researchers note that in other Responsive Classroom studies, teachers’ perceptions of their principals’ engagement and buy-in positively influenced teachers’ use of Responsive Classroom practices, especially if the principals made structural changes to influence teachers’ use. Teachers’ use was negatively affected if they perceived principals bought in to gain prestige or recognition or if principals adopted practices that conflicted with Responsive Classroom practices or principles.

In the design of this intervention, researchers address five of Learning Forward’s Standards for Professional Learning (Learning Forward, 2011). They strongly address Leadership, Resources, Data, Learning Designs, and Implementation. They fail, however, to explain how they addressed Learning Communities or Outcomes, especially in relationship to the degree to which Responsive Classroom practices aligned with teacher or administrator performance expectations. The inattention to the Learning Communities standard, especially given the principle-focused nature of Responsive Classroom, may have been a significant oversight.

Overall, implementation of a new set of practices requires deliberate, persistent, and thoughtful attention to the fidelity of implementation, the culture in which the practices are implemented, the characteristics of the implementers, and the support provided by administrators and the organization. No set of new practices is likely to succeed without substantive attention to developing capacity in implementers and their supervisors, the conditions in which the implementation will occur, and consistent support for implementation fidelity.


Learning Forward. (2011). Standards for Professional Learning. Oxford, OH: Author.

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Learning Forward is the only professional association devoted exclusively to those who work in educator professional development. We help our members plan, implement, and measure high-quality professional learning so they can achieve success with their systems, schools, and students.

Categories: Implementation, Outcomes, Research, Standards for Professional Learning

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