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“These robust findings demonstrate the impact of teacher training on student outcomes … highlighting the importance of sustained professional development,” said Carol Booth Olson, UCI professor of education and lead author of the study. Courtesy of the School of Education

UCI study links teacher training, improved student writing skills

English learners receiving ‘cognitive strategies’ instruction got higher test scores

Irvine, Calif., Jan. 24, 2017 – A study from the University of California, Irvine has found a correlation between teacher professional development and improvements in academic writing by English learners in grades 7-12.

Students of teachers who participated in the Pathway Project – 46 hours of training in the “cognitive strategies” instructional approach – scored higher on an academic writing assessment and had higher pass rates on the California High School Exit Exam than students whose teachers did not receive the training.

The academic writing assessment, in which secondary school students composed timed, on-demand essays interpreting themes from fiction and nonfiction texts, was designed for the Pathway Project to measure analytical literacy skills. The high school exit exam – since suspended – gauges California students’ competency in reading, writing and mathematics.

Carol Booth Olson, professor of education, creator of the Pathway Project and director of the UCI Writing Project, is lead author of the two-year study, which appears in the January issue of the Journal of Educational Psychology.

“On average, students of the Pathway teacher group showed moderate improvement from pre-test to post-test the first year, and students in the second-year Pathway group showed high improvement,” Olson said. “These robust findings demonstrate the impact of teacher training on student outcomes. There is stronger growth in student achievement after two years of teacher participation, highlighting the importance of sustained professional development.”

The study, conducted in 2012-13 and 2013-14, involved 95 teachers in 16 Anaheim Union High School District schools. They and one of each participant’s classes were randomly assigned to either the Pathway group or a control group. Before the beginning of school each year, the Pathway teachers learned how to integrate cognitive strategies into their existing language arts curriculum, while instructors in the control group did not.

“Cognitive strategies are tools and resources that help students improve their academic literacy and writing skills,” Olson explained. “Reading and writing are taught as a process that includes pre-reading, during-reading and post-reading activities that enhance students’ abilities to summarize, make inferences, interpret, draw conclusions, evaluate, assess, revise and reflect as they read and write about complex texts. We use a tool kit analogy and visual aids that identify the different techniques for reading comprehension and analytical writing. Students are encouraged to think of themselves as craftsmen who reach into their mental tool kit to construct meaning from, or with, words.”

Study co-authors are Tina Matuchniak, academic coordinator; Huy Q. Chung, director of research for the UCI Writing Project; Rachel Stumpf, a doctoral candidate in the School of Education; and George Farkas, professor of education.

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 30,000 students and offers 192 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $5 billion annually to the local economy. For more on UCI, visit www.uci.edu.

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