Evaluating the Developing Mathematical Ideas Professional Development Program: Researching its Impact on Teaching and Student Learning

This is a 3.5-year efficacy study of the Developing Mathematical Ideas (DMI) elementary math teacher professional development (PD) program. DMI is a well-known, commercially available PD program with substantial prior evidence showing its impact on elementary teachers' mathematical and pedagogical knowledge. However, no studies have yet linked DMI directly with changes in teachers' classroom practice, or with improved student outcomes in math. This study aims to remedy this gap.

Project Email: 
Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1019769
Funding Period: 
Wednesday, September 1, 2010 to Friday, August 31, 2012
Project Evaluator: 
Bill Nave
Full Description: 

This is a 3.5-year efficacy study of the Developing Mathematical Ideas (DMI) elementary math teacher professional development (PD) program. DMI was developed by staff from Education Development Center (EDC), SummerMath for Teachers, and TERC, the STEM research and development institution responsible for this research. DMI is a well-known, commercially available PD program with substantial prior evidence showing its impact on elementary teachers' mathematical and pedagogical knowledge. However, no studies have yet linked DMI directly with changes in teachers' classroom practice, or with improved student outcomes in math. This study aims to remedy this gap.

The research questions for the study are:

1) Does participation in the Developing Mathematical Ideas (DMI) professional development program lead to increases in reform-oriented teaching?

2) Does participation in DMI lead to increases in students' mathematics learning and achievement, especially in their ability to explain their thinking and justify their answers?

3) What is the process by which a reform-oriented professional development program can influence teaching practice and, thus, student learning? Through what mechanisms does DMI have impact, and with what kinds of support do we see the desired changes on our outcome measures when the larger professional development context is examined?

The dependent variables for this study include a) teachers' pedagogical and mathematics knowledge for teaching; b) the nature of their classroom practice; and c) student learning/ achievement in mathematics.

The study uses experimental and quasi-experimental methods, working with about 195 elementary grades teachers and their students in Boston, Springfield, Leominster, Fitchburg, and other Massachusetts public schools. Volunteer teachers are randomly assigned either to PD with DMI in the first year of the efficacy study, or to a control group that will wait until the second year of the study to receive DMI PD. Both groups of teachers will be followed through two academic years. Analyses use OLS regression, hierarchical modeling, and structural equation modeling, as appropriate, to compare the two groups and to track changes over time. In this way, the project explores several aspects of a conceptual framework hypothesizing relationships among PD, teacher mathematical and pedagogical knowledge, classroom teaching practice, and student outcomes. There are multiple measures of each construct, including video-analysis of teacher practice, and a new video-based measure of teacher knowledge.

The study tests the impact of DMI in a range of districts (large urban, small urban, suburban) serving an ethnically and economically diverse mix of students. It provides much needed, rigorous evidence testing the efficacy of this reform-oriented professional development program. It also directly explores the commonplace theory that teachers' understanding of content and student thinking and their encouragement of rich mathematical discourse for student sense-making lead to improvement on measures of mathematics achievement. Findings from the study are disseminated to both research and practitioner communities. The project provides professional development in mathematics to about 195 teachers to improve their ability to teach important concepts. If the evidence for efficacy is positive, then even larger-scale use of this PD program is likely.