Can improving teachers’ knowledge of mathematics lead to gains in learners’ attainment in Mathematics?
It is wellknown that the majority of South African learners achieve extremely poorly in Mathematics. Many claim that one of the causes of this poor attainment is teachers’ weak knowledge of mathematics, and propose that improving teachers’ mathematical knowledge would improve learner attainment. However, the evidence-base for this proposed solution is currently relatively weak. We report on a quasi-experimental study examining the learning gains of Grade 10 learners from five secondary schools in the Johannesburg area, whose teachers participated in a year-long professional development course aimed at improving the teachers’ knowledge of mathematics for teaching. Statistical analyses of pre- and post-test results show that the intervention group of learners (N = 586) taught by teachers who had participated in the professional development (N = 14) outperformed a matched control group of learners (N = 217) taught by teachers in the same schools (N = 7). An effect size of d = 0.17 for the intervention group is equivalent to two months’ additional progress. While the learning gains are small, they are statistically significant. These findings provide empirical support for claims that attending to teachers’ mathematical knowledge can impact learners’ attainment. Suggestions are made regarding the form and substance of such professional development.
Keywords: learning gains; mathematics teacher knowledge; professional development