Teachers as Researchers: A Quantitative Study of a Research-focused Professional Development Program on Teacher Professional Agency
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Lackluster performance on international assessments prompted US education reform initiatives reliant on high stakes testing and data driven decision making (DDDM) to determine education policies. Far removed from the classroom, these policies often diminish teachers as decision-makers in their own classroom. Reform policies have led to prescribed curriculum and teaching practices, further reducing teachers’ ability to apply their own professional judgement to meet the needs of students. Policies based on a snapshot of data from high stakes testing led me to investigate teachers’ level of professional agency if they generated, analyzed, and applied their own data within the classroom. To do so would require levels of proficiency in research methodologies and DDDM.
The professional development program, Teachers as Researchers, included modules addressing the application of research methodologies to the classroom, data literacy, and applying DDDM to the classroom. Anticipating participating teachers would have varying levels of experience with research methodologies and DDDM, the program applied a Community of Practice (CoP) framework. By applying a CoP framework, teachers were empowered to engage in discourse, learning from one another in a collegial setting.
Due to COVID-19 safety concerns, the program was changed from in-person to virtual, using Zoom. The program occurred over a four-day period with one three-hour module presented each day. Study participants were limited to secondary STEM content teachers, grades 6th through 12th, with five or more years teaching experience. The rationale for limiting the study to experienced teachers was based on the assumption experienced teachers will have established teaching practices as well as a sense of their own professional agency from which to draw comparisons.
Path analysis was applied to this quantitative study to determine associations between research methodologies and DDDM and their impact on teaching practices and teacher professional agency. The study design applied a pretest/posttest model using four validated Likert-scales to assess change in each study variable: Perceived Research Competency Index (Davis & Jones, 2017), Data Driven Decision-Making Efficacy and Anxiety Inventory (Dunn et al., 2013), Teachers’ Preferences for Learning Activities Scale (Louws et al., 2017) and the Multidimensional Professional Agency Scale (Vähäsantanen et al., 2019).
Due to the small sample size, I applied Bayesian analysis which indicated statistically significant associations between research methodologies and teaching practices (β=.64) and between research methodologies and teacher professional agency (β=.52). However, there were no statistically significant associations between DDDM and teaching practices (β=.17) or between DDDM and teacher professional agency (β=.052). Treating teaching practices as a mediating variable for teacher professional agency did not reveal a statistically significant association (β= -.063). The study did not reveal a correlation between research methods and DDDM (β=.013).
The findings of this study indicate the teaching practices and professional agency of experienced secondary STEM teachers can be positively impacted when teachers increase their confidence in applying research methodologies to their classroom. The study suggests before teachers can effectively apply DDDM to their classrooms, additional training to expand teacher confidence with data literacy and data analysis skills are necessary.