Can teacher development programs reverse COVID-19 impact?

Tuesday, 22 September, 2020

Can teacher development programs reverse COVID-19 impact?

A study from The University of Newcastle suggests that teacher professional development programs can have a measurable impact on student learning outcomes.

The results are timely, as schools continue to grapple with major upheaval throughout 2020. The study reveals that a teacher professional development initiative — Quality Teaching Rounds (QTR) — dramatically accelerates student learning outcomes, potentially reversing disruption caused by COVID-19.

QTR, developed at The University of Newcastle, increased learning outcomes in maths by 25%, which is equivalent to two months’ additional learning over the eight-month study period.

The study, conducted by the University of Newcastle’s Teachers and Teaching Research Centre, is the largest randomised controlled trial in Australian education research history. It provides unprecedented clarity linking QTR professional development with improvements in student achievement.

Addressing COVID-19 impacts

Laureate Professor Jenny Gore, Director of the Teachers and Teaching Research Centre, said there was strong evidence that QTR improved student learning, offering a unique and rigorously tested pathway to educational recovery.

“In the current climate where COVID-19 has caused such widespread disruption, now is a crucial time for policy makers to draw on rigorous Australian evidence to inform their long-term strategic outlook on education,” Professor Gore said.

In June, the Grattan Institute reported that Australian school students will have lost the equivalent of one month’s learning at the end of the school year due to the disruption caused by COVID-19, warning the greatest impacts would be felt by the most disadvantaged students.

Professor Gore said student achievement, particularly in disadvantaged schools, could be greatly improved through QTR.

“Quality Teaching Rounds offers governments and education departments a powerful way to improve learning and help to substantially narrow equity gaps.

“To have added 25% to student learning in maths is truly incredible. What is even more striking is that students in disadvantaged schools made slightly greater academic gains than their peers in more privileged schools,” Professor Gore said.

Relevant to all teachers in any grade or subject area, QTR uses rich collaborative processes that empower teachers to refine their practice and enhance learning for all students.

“As the study continues, we expect to see the results observed in maths mirrored in other subjects,” Professor Gore said.

The value of QTR professional development

The results of the study have been independently verified by the RAND Corporation and, according to a Deloitte Access Economics cost benefit analysis, QTR is a very low-cost intervention that achieves a positive impact on student progress and returns at least $40 to the economy for every dollar invested.

Professor Jenny Gore said that the study, combined with this independent analysis, provides compelling evidence that QTR can create sustained improvement in an industry where high-quality research showing positive impacts is hard to come by.

“The professional development industry is worth billions of dollars globally, and while its fundamental aim is to improve student learning, there is very little rigorous evidence that demonstrates positive impact,” Professor Gore said.

“More than 150,000 students from hundreds of NSW schools are already benefiting from Quality Teaching Rounds, and teachers in other states are embracing the approach.”

The study

The study, which was conducted in 2019, included more than 5000 students from 126 NSW Government schools, with researchers conducting 33,407 progressive achievement tests (PATs). Additionally, researchers conducted 791 whole lesson observations, as well as 11,924 surveys with students and 803 surveys with teachers and school leaders.

The study is part of a larger body of research funded by the Paul Ramsay Foundation and supported by the NSW Department of Education. The project, Building Capacity for Quality Teaching in Australian Schools is investigating the impact of Quality Teaching Rounds on students and teachers on a wide scale and in a range of contexts, with a specific focus on overcoming disadvantage nationwide.

The project includes seed funding for a Quality Teaching Academy that will deliver high-impact, evidence-informed professional learning across Australia. The Academy will launch later this year, but teachers can currently book a Quality Teaching Rounds workshop through the University of Newcastle.

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