Professional Development and High-Stakes Testing

Disparate Influences on Student Writing Performance


  • Candace Roberts Saint Leo University



professional development, high stakes testing, writing


The purpose of this study was to explore the influence of professional development at a site of the National Writing Project (the Tampa Bay Area Writing Project), on student writing achievement. Student writing samples were collected at the beginning, middle, and end of the school year from 22 classes of students in grades 3-12. Statistical analysis, using Repeated Measures ANOVA, of a stratified random sample of papers from each class, revealed significant differences between students in classrooms of writing project trained teachers and students in classrooms of closely matched control group teachers, with students in treatment group classrooms demonstrating higher writing achievement at the end of the year. Effect sizes for the treatment group were consistently higher than those of the control group. Significant differences were not in evidence until April, two months after the state writing assessment, following which the teachers had changed their practices from a prior focus on test preparation. Results from statistical analysis and teacher interviews suggest that the pressures and requirements which educators and legislators believe will improve writing performance may actually impede teachers from doing their best work, and consequently, the students from achieving their best writing performance.

Author Biography

Candace Roberts, Saint Leo University

Dr. Candace Roberts is an Associate Professor in the Department of Education at Saint Leo University. She received her doctorate in curriculum and instruction and her Masters’ degree in English Education from the University of South Florida and her bachelor’s degree in English from Emory University. Her research interests include writing pedagogy, pre-service and beginning teacher development, and Classroom Management.


Baron, D. and Thompson-Grove, G. (2008) Imagine: Professional development that changes practice. Principal Leadership 8(5): 56–8.

Berry, B. (1991) Professional development of the 90’s: Teachers, students, and the South Carolina Writing Improvement Network. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, IL. (ERIC Document No. ED 331 082).

Bratcher, S. and Stroble, E. (1994) Determining the progression from comfort to confidence: A longitudinal evaluation of a National Writing Project site based on multiple data sources. Research in the Teaching of English 28(1): 66–88.

Brooks, J. G. and Brooks, M. G. (1993) The Case for Constructivist Classrooms. Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Carter, L. C. (1992) A descriptive study of a writing workshop modeled from the National Writing Project on writing pedagogy. Dissertation Abstracts International 53(4): 1127A. (University Microfilms No. AAG9225100.)

Cohen, J. (1988) Statistical Power Analysis for the Behavioral Sciences. (2nd edition.) Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Daniels, H. and Zemelman, S. (1985) A Writing Project: Training Teachers of Composition from Kindergarten to College. Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Heinemann.

Darling-Hammond, L. (1996) Teaching and knowledge. Handbook of Research on Teacher Education. (2nd edition.) New York: Association of Teacher Educators.

Dickey, K., Hirabayashi, J., Murray, A., St. John, M. and Stokes, L. (2006) The National Writing Project – Client satisfaction and program impact: Results from a satisfaction survey and follow-up survey of participants at 2005 invitational institutes. Inverness Research Inc. Retrieved on 30 January 2009 from–12_Rpt_NWP-DOE_FU-SrvyRslt05InvInst.html.

Dimililer, S. (1991) An examination of the training transfer of the California Writing Project. Dissertation Abstracts International 52(10): 3486A. (University Microfilms No. AAG0570732.)

Dyson, A. H. and Freeman, S. W. (2003) Writing. In J. Flood, D. Lapp, J. R. Squire, and J. M. Jensen (eds.) Handbook of Research on Teaching the English Language Arts 967–92. (2nd edition.) Mahwah, New Jersey: Erlbaum.

Evertson, C., Hawley, W., and Zlotnick, M. (1985) Making a difference in educational quality through teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education 36(3): 2–12.

Fearn, L. and Farnan, N. (2007) The influence of professional development on young writers’ writing performance. Action in Teacher Education 29(2): 17–28.

Firestone, W. A. and Mayrowetz, D. (2000) Rethinking “high-stakes”: Lessons from the United States and England and Wales. Teachers College Record 102(4): 724–49.

Fischer, R. O. (1997) An investigation of the long-term effects on teachers of participation in the 1991 summer institute of the Metropolitan Area Writing. Dissertation Abstracts International 58(6): 2166A. (University Microfilms No. AAG9735262.)

Florida Department of Education. (2003) Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test: FCAT Rubrics. Retrieved 10 August 2005 from

Florida Department of Education. (2005) Florida Writing Assessment Program: Description of Florida Writes! Retrieved 10 December 2008 from .

Friedrich, L., Swain, S., LeMahieu, P., Fessehaie, S., and Mieles, T. (2008) Making a difference: The National Writing Project’s inculcation of leadership over 30 years. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago. Retrieved on 31 January 2009 from

Grant, S. G. (2000) Teachers and tests: Exploring teachers’ perceptions of changes in the New York State-mandated Testing Program. Education Policy Analysis Archives 8(14). Retrieved on 31 January 2009 from

Grant, S. G. (2001) An uncertain lever: Exploring the influence of state-level testing on teaching social studies. Teachers College Record 103(3): 398–426.

Haberman, M. (1984) An evaluation of the rational for required teacher education: Beginning teachers with and without teacher preparation. Paper presented at a hearing of the National Commission on Excellence in Teacher Education, Minneapolis (ERIC Document No. ED 250 289).

Higdon, K. A. (2005) First-Year Teachers in Unfamiliar Territory: Case Studies of Novice Teachers in Urban Schools. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Texas State University, San Marcos.

Hillocks, G., Jr. (2002) Testing Trap: How States Writing Assessments Control Learning. New York: Teachers College Press.

Johnson, T. S., Smagorinsky, P., Thompson, L., and Fry, P. G. (2003) Learning to teach the five paragraph theme. Research in the Teaching of English 38: 136–76.

Ketter, J. and Pool, J. (2001) Exploring the impact of a high-stakes direct writing assessment in two high school classrooms. Research in the Teaching of English 35: 344–93.

Lieberman, A. and Wood, D. (2003) Inside the National Writing Project: Connecting Network Learning and Classroom Teaching. New York: Teachers College Press.

Marsh, D. D. (1987) Factors influencing the transfer of Bay Area Writing Workshop experiences to classrooms. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Washington, D.C. (ERIC Document No. ED 282 219).

Marsh, D. D., Knudsen, D. J., and Knudsen, G. A. (1987) The role of staff development in implementing the Bay Area Writing Program. Journal of Teacher Education 38(6): 34–9.

McCracken, G. D. (1988) The Long Interview. Beverly Hills, California: Sage.

National Commission on Excellence in Education. (1983) A National At Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. An Open Letter to the American People. A Report to the Nation and the Secretary of Education. Washington, D.C.: United States Department of Education. (ERIC Document No. ED 226 006)

National Writing Project. (2009) NWP Core Principles. Retrieved on January 30, 2009 from

Nilsson, B. W. (1981) Participating teachers’ perceptions of and attitudes toward a National Writing Project workshop. Dissertation Abstracts International 42(3): 1036A.

O’Neil, P., Murphy, S., Huot, B., and Williamson, M. M. (2005) What teachers say about different kinds of mandated state writing tests. Journal of Writing Assessment 2(2): 81–108.

Pedulla, J., Abrams, L., Madaus, G., Russell, M., Ramos, M., and Miao, J. (2003) Perceived Effects of State-Mandated Testing Programs on Teaching and Learning: Findings from a National Survey of Teachers. Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts: National Board on Educational Testing and Public Policy.

Prichard, R. J. and Honeycutt, R. L. (2008) The process approach to writing instruction: Examining its effectiveness. In C. A. MacArthur, S. Graham, and J. Fitzgerald (eds.) Handbook of Writing Research. New York: Guilford Press.

Prichard, R. J. and Marshall, J. C. (2002) Do NWP teachers make a difference? Findings from research on district-led staff development. The NWP Quarterly 24(3): 32–8.

Scherff, L. and Piazza, C. (2005) The more things change, the more they stay the same: A survey of high school students’ writing experiences. Research in the Teaching of English 39(3): 271–304.

Scriven, M. (1979) Executive Summary: Overview of the Bay Area Writing Project Evaluation. New York: The Carnegie Corporation.

Seidman, I. (1998) Interviewing as Qualitative Research: a Guide for Researchers in Education and the Social Sciences. (2nd edition.) New York: Teachers College Press.

Strickland, K. and Strickland, J. (2002) Engaged in Learning: Teaching English, 6–12. Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Heinemann.

Tindall, M. E. (1990) Process-oriented writing instruction: The effect of training on instructional practice. Dissertation Abstracts International 52(2): 511A. (University Microfilms No. AAG9118946.)

Whitney, A. (2008) Teacher transformation in the national writing project. Research in the Teaching of English 43(2): 144–87.

Whitney, A., Blau, S., Bright, A., Cabe, R., Dewar, T., Levin, J., Macias, R., and Rogers, P. (2008) Beyond strategies: Teacher practice, writing process, and the influence of inquiry. English Education 40(3): 201–30.

Wilson, D. E. (1994) Attempting Change: Teachers Moving from Writing Project to Classroom Practice. Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Heinemann.

Zbikowski, J. M. (1991) Writing and Response in a Writing Project Summer Institute and in the Classes of Selected Project Participants. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Florida, Gainesville.



How to Cite

Roberts, C. (2010). Professional Development and High-Stakes Testing: Disparate Influences on Student Writing Performance. Writing and Pedagogy, 1(1), 63–88.



Research Matters