National Science Foundation
Increasing Teacher Content Knowledge Enhances Student Learning in Mathematics

The Math and Science Partnership (MSP) program’s Institute Partnerships: Teacher Institutes for the 21st century prepare school- and district-based intellectual leaders in mathematics or the sciences. With foci on subject-matter expertise and leadership development, the institutes deepen the content knowledge of experienced teachers, so that they can change their instructional practice, improve their students’ achievement, and, over time, provide intellectual leadership in their own schools and with their own colleagues. 

At Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), the MSP Teacher Institute is preparing the first elementary mathematics specialists for a newly approved licensure in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Graduates of the Institute will receive a master’s degree in a program to be institutionalized at VCU, Norfolk State University, the University of Virginia and elsewhere in the Commonwealth. Data from the two mathematics courses in VCU’s 2005 Summer Institute document substantial and positive impacts on participants’ knowledge of mathematics content, with differences in means that constitute very large effect sizes (as high as 1.27 on Geometry content knowledge, with scores greater than 0.8 considered to be a large effect), as well as on their perceived preparedness as classroom practitioners. 

In the Rice University Mathematics Leadership Institute, teachers participating in the 2006 Summer Leadership Institute completed content courses in geometry and algebra. Changes in teachers’ knowledge of geometry were analyzed in a paired samples t-test using the scores of the 35 participants. The highest score possible on the geometry measure was 50. At the beginning of the institute, the teachers’ mean score on the Geometry pretest was 23.2, but after completion of the institute, their mean score on the same measure was 33.9. The change in score was statistically significant at the .0001 level. A similar approach was used to measure the change in teachers’ knowledge of solutions for linear functions in algebra during the institute. The highest score possible on this measure was 40. At the beginning of the institute, the teachers’ mean on the algebra pretest was 13.6, but after summer participation, the teachers’ mean score on the same measure was 33.4. The change also was statistically significant at the .0001 level.

Student outcomes are beginning to parallel growth in teacher knowledge. The Houston Independent School District Research and Accountability Department, for example, analyzed the impact of the teachers' participation in the Rice University Mathematics Leadership Institute. Teachers who participated in the 2005-2006 institute were compared to a group of non-institute Houston teachers who taught the same grade(s) at similar schools. The findings indicated that students of institute participants outperformed comparison students by 2.4 scale score points on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) and 0.82 National Curve Equivalents on the 2006 administration of the Stanford 10 mathematics assessment. In addition, institute teachers helped their lower performing students increase their minimum means scale score on the TAKS by 378 points.

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