Exploring the Impact of Professional Development on Intensive Intervention Outcomes

Apr 28 2022

Key Takeaway:

As we consider how to structure professional development opportunities aimed at improving educator implementation of intensive intervention, it would be wise to access tools such as Desimone’s (2009) PD framework and Fuchs et al.’s (2018) Taxonomy of Intervention Intensity. This way, the results of professional development may become more clearly identifiable within our MTSS programs. —Erin Madonna

Meta-Analysis of Professional Development Impacts 

In this synthesis, McMaster et al. analyzed 26 studies in order to learn more about the impact of professional development (PD) on intensive reading intervention outcomes for students identified as at-risk, “nonresponsive to intervention,” or identified as having a reading-related disability. 

The included studies focused on implementers within the school setting, such as content or homeroom teachers, special educators, intervention specialists, or paraeducators. The interventions implemented in the included studies addressed a range of reading skills, with the most common interventions targeting phonics, word reading, and fluency. 

Interventions were delivered in one-to-one or small group settings, meeting usually 4 to 5 times a week, and averaged 39 minutes per session. The study team sought to answer the following research questions:


The researchers reported that most PD was delivered in a workshop setting lasting an average of one to two days. Some of the studies used a literacy learning cohort model where an initial training institute was then followed by monthly small-group meetings and personalized coaching. Additionally, a few trainings included modeling and coaching through active practice. Most studies did include an element of ongoing support ranging from weekly to monthly contact time. 

Overall, McMaster et al. found that descriptions of the trainings were sparse and left many details out making it difficult to extrapolate the most effective PD practices. This was, in part, largely due to the fact that most of the included studies were primarily focused on the effects of the intervention on student outcomes rather than the effects of PD on teacher implementation. Implementer outcomes that were most frequently cited in the included studies were fidelity and implementer satisfaction and perceptions, with a few studies reporting changes to teacher practice and teacher knowledge. 

One compelling finding shared noted that, “Student measures indicated that the PD also influenced student learning. Students whose teachers received ongoing PD outperformed those whose teachers did not on measures of word attack and nonsense word fluency with effect sizes ranging from d = .37 to .46. These results indicate that ongoing PD can result in gains for both teachers and students.”2

In the discussion of Pinnel et al.’s study,3 the authors mentioned that “…teachers who received PD including the one-way glass observations had teacher interactions better tailored to individual children than those who did not receive this training. This finding suggests that the observations and discussions, as well as training hours provided over a longer period, may help teachers be more student specific.”

Limitations and Future Research

The definition of “intensive intervention” adopted by McMaster et al. may have acted as a limitation in this synthesis. Due to the somewhat limited literature base, the authors loosened their definition of intensive intervention so that more studies could be included. This may have impacted findings and future research should consider whether intensive intervention, defined more strictly, requires PD of a different nature. 

McMaster et al.’s synthesis presents possible avenues for future research exploring the impact of PD on intensive intervention outcomes. A more direct focus on the connection between PD and implementer outcomes, as well as the incorporation of Desimone’s (2009)1 PD framework, may allow for better articulation of the “causal mechanisms between PD and teacher and student outcomes.” The inconsistent description of the various PD structures and the lack of consensus around how implementer outcomes are best measured made it difficult to glean causal links from the current literature base. 

The authors close with the following statement:

“Our hope is that, as research in this area continues to grow, educators will have the necessary tools and support to improve reading outcomes for students with the greatest needs.” 

Summarized Article:

McMaster, K. L., Baker, K., Donegan, R., Hugh, M., & Sargent, K. (2021). Professional Development to Support Teachers’ Implementation of Intensive Reading Intervention: A Systematic Review. Remedial and Special Education, 42(5), 329–342. https://doi.org/10.1177/0741932520934099

Summary by: Erin Madonna—Erin philosophically aligns with the MARIO Framework’s deeply rooted belief that all learners are capable, and she firmly believes in MARIO’s commitment to the use of evidence-based practices drawn from the field of multidisciplinary research.

Additional References:

  1. Desimone, L. M. (2009). Improving impact studies of teachers’ professional development: Toward better conceptualizations and measures. Educational Researcher, 38, 181–199. https:// doi.org/10.3102/0013189X08331140
  2. Brownell, M., Kiely, M. T., Haager, D., Boardman, A., Corbett, N., Algina, J., & Urbach, J. (2017). Literacy learning cohorts: Content-focused approach to improving special education teachers’ reading instruction. Exceptional Children, 83, 143– 164. https://doi.org/10.1177/0014402916671517
  3. Pinnell, G. S., Lyons, C. A., Deford, D. E., Bryk, A. S., & Seltzer, M. (1994). Comparing instructional models for the literacy education of high-risk first graders. Reading Research Quarterly, 29, 8–39. https://doi.org/10.2307/747736

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