Project Outcomes Report

Persistence of Teacher Change in Rural Schools: Assessing the Short- and Long-term Impact of Professional Development on K-2 Science Instruction



This research focused on the persistence of teacher change after professional development     ends.  The study followed K-2 elementary teachers who had previously completed a state-funded professional development program that focused on enhancing their science content knowledge and teaching them new strategies for improving science instructional practices. All teachers worked in small rural school districts with high populations of traditionally underserved students. The researchers collected data over a four-year period after the professional development ended and made comparisons with data collected before and during the three-year program. Following the teachers over an extended period, the researchers investigated the persistence of changes in teachers’ science content knowledge, self-efficacy, instructional time devoted to science, and instructional practices in science. The research also examined the extent to which school contexts and resources provided ongoing support for teachers to implement what they had learned in the professional development program. 

      Five key findings from the research demonstrate both the potential of professional development to improve science instruction and the need to continue to support teachers to achieve long-term benefits. First, the professional development led to significant changes in teachers’ science content knowledge, self-efficacy related to science teaching, instructional time devoted to science, and instructional practices in science during the three-year program. These changes in teachers’ attitudes and instructional practices began to decline two years after the professional development ended, but remained higher than pre-program. The most significant declines occurred in teachers’ self-efficacy in teaching science. Second, teachers continued to use a broader range of instructional strategies in science than pre-program, but their reported frequency declined. Third, variations in contextual factors across schools and districts influenced instructional time in science and teachers’ use of instructional strategies. Fourth, the professional development offered three types of support not afforded by many of the schools: a) designated time to plan for science instruction; b) an informal expectation or “license” to teach science consistently; and c) teacher collaboration about science. Fifth, teachers’ most frequently requested forms of support were modest but hold important potential for sustaining science instruction. Our overall findings suggest that, without modest follow-up support for teachers, professional development outcomes, particularly in some schools, may decline over time. 

            This study meets a need for research on science instruction in the early elementary grades and on the long-term effects of professional development.  Beyond contributions to the research literature, the results of the study contribute broadly to practice and policies in science education, rural education, and teacher professional development. The findings hold practical implications for designing professional development programs, addressing potential obstacles to K-2 science instruction, developing policies that support teacher change, providing essential resources and instructional support for teachers in rural communities, and improving education for students in underrepresented groups.    


Last Modified: 11/21/2016
Modified by: Cathy Ringstaff