Exploration of the contribution of teachers’ knowledge about reading to their students’ improvement in reading


Recent studies of elementary teachers’ knowledge about reading have been built on the premise that teachers need thorough knowledge about language and reading processes, but these studies have provided only limited evidence that teachers’ performance on tests of such knowledge contributes to their students’ reading achievement. The present study was designed to examine the contribution of first- through third-grade teachers’ knowledge about early reading to their students’ improvement on tests of word analysis and reading comprehension, controlling for socio-demographic characteristics of students, their prior reading achievement, and teachers’ educational attainment, professional experiences, and socio-demographic characteristics. Preliminary analyses indicated that the test of teachers’ knowledge had adequate psychometric characteristics. However, performance on this measure of teachers’ knowledge did not significantly explain students’ improvement on the two reading subtests. The complexity of the factors that influence teachers’ knowledge acquisition and the context in which the study was carried out offer possible explanations for these results. In addition, teachers’ content knowledge about reading might not be closely associated with the practices they use in reading instruction, and therefore might not be significantly related to their students’ improvement in reading over a year.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    It is unlikely that teacher learning across the three administrations of the LRC led to biased score estimates. Since all teachers received LETRS prior to any administration of the LRC, learning from the professional development probably did not take place across administrations. Further, when teachers were scored separately on the parallel form A (Fall) and C (Spring) of the LRC (see Appendix), there was no significant growth, which strongly suggests that there was no systematic learning bias.

  2. 2.

    Since listwise deletion was employed by the statistical software program, an additional 10 first grade teachers, 15 second grade teachers and 15 third grade teachers were excluded from analyses because they failed to include their race on the fall teacher questionnaire.

  3. 3.

    Since our primary inference is the effect of teachers’ knowledge located at the teacher level (level-2) of the HLM model, it is important that the student covariates be grand-mean centered (Raudenbush & Bryk, 2002).

  4. 4.

    This calculation was done using Optimal Design software Version .30 (see, e.g., Spybrook, Raudenbush, Liu, & Congdon, 2006). Depending on the amount of variance existing between teachers within schools, the software showed power to be above .8 for effect sizes ranging from as small as .12–.18, given the numbers of students, classrooms and schools in the sample.

  5. 5.

    This calculation was done by taking the difference in outcome scores for high versus low knowledge teachers (2.65, see Table 3) and dividing by the standard deviation of the outcome (21.06, see Table 1).


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Correspondence to Joanne F. Carlisle.

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Order of authors is alphabetical.


Appendix A: language and reading concepts forms

Appendix B

Fig. 2

First grade students’ reading comprehension (n = 2,795) and word analysis (n = 2,885) pre-post achievement scores by teacher knowledge categories

Fig. 3

Second grade students’ reading comprehension (n = 2,795) and word analysis (n = 2,794) pre-post achievement scores by teacher knowledge categories

Fig. 4

Third grade students’ reading comprehension (n = 2,975) and word analysis (n = 2,971) pre-post achievement scores by teacher knowledge categories

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Carlisle, J.F., Correnti, R., Phelps, G. et al. Exploration of the contribution of teachers’ knowledge about reading to their students’ improvement in reading. Read Writ 22, 457–486 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-009-9165-y

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  • Reading
  • Elementary
  • Teacher knowledge
  • Reading achievement