Pairing New Science Curriculum With Professional Learning Increases Student Achievement

By Joellen Killion
February 2016
What the Study Says A randomized trial study, conducted over two school years in 18 high schools in Washington, finds that An Inquiry Approach, a three-year, educative curriculum for high school science, has a positive impact on student achievement, teacher practice, and fidelity of implementation of the curriculum when the curriculum is paired with professional development for teachers. Study Description Taylor et al. used a pre/post-test control group design to assess the efficacy of An Inquiry Approach. An external researcher assigned the 18 Washington high schools participating in the study to either treatment or control group. Using measures of student achievement, science teaching practice, and fidelity of curriculum implementation, the research team analyzed the effects of the curriculum and its accompanying professional development that spread

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Joellen Killion

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

Well-designed, educative curriculum and materials, coupled with face-to-face professional development related to the curriculum, lead to more effective implementation of the curriculum, improved teacher practice, and student achievement.

The Study

Taylor, J., Getty, S., Kowalski, S., Wilson, C., Carlson, J., & Van Scotter, P. (2015). An efficacy trial of research-based curriculum materials with curriculum-based professional development. American Educational Research Journal, 52(5), 984-1017.

What This Means for Practitioners 

This study focuses specifically on a single science curriculum for high school students. Yet it confirms common practices for which there is limited empirical evidence. Among those practices, as specified in the Outcomes standard, teacher professional learning must align with student outcomes and teaching practices aligned to those outcomes in a coherent and integrated fashion. The professional learning teachers experienced focused on curriculum, curriculum implementation, teaching practices, fidelity of implementation, and increasing student achievement in an integrated fashion.

New programs, such as new curricula, require sufficient professional learning to support implementation. The Implementation standard explains that support must extend over time and provide opportunities for feedback and collaborative support. One goal of the professional development in this study was to build collaboration among teachers for implementation support. The description of the professional development program included no information about how or if it included feedback to teachers and classroom-based support outside the daylong sessions that occurred throughout the school year.

In addition, the Learning Designs standard states that the instructional practices used in professional learning should model and advance the expected pedagogical practices. Providers modeled lessons and applied pedagogical practices that teachers would use in their implementation of the curriculum.

A noteworthy element of the selection of participants was engaging school principals as advocates for teacher participation in the professional learning. This often-missing element of teacher professional learning aligns with the Leadership standard.

Overall, this study clarifies the significance of teacher practice in program implementation and student success. It verifies that teacher practice mediates student achievement and provides confirming evidence that professional learning as a core component of curriculum or program implementation is a worthy investment.

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Joellen Killion is a senior advisor to Learning Forward and previously served as the organization’s deputy executive director. Killion has over 30 years of experience in planning, design, implementation, and evaluation of professional learning at the school, system, and state/provincial levels.

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