In the past decade, the number of studies conducted to determine what constitutes effective classroom practices has increased dramatically (Gable, 2004). However, obstacles to moving that research into practice are many and varied.
On July 1, 2002, the President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education issued a report that called for a fundamental shift from a “culture of compliance to a culture of accountability” (p. 2). The report underscored the need for sweeping educational reforms based on scientifically rigorous research. Consonant with that expectation, Congress enacted the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) which placed center stage the use of scientifically-based research to guide decision-making regarding instruction. In raising the educational bar, Congress imposed very demanding performance standards on both students and school personnel. The focus of attention was on the use of rigorous, systematic, and objective procedures to obtain valid and reliable information on educational activities and programs (NCLB). As if to underscore the significance of scientifically-based research, the term appears more than 115 times in NCLB. More recently, the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (2004) sought to ensure that teachers possess the knowledge and skills to improve the academic achievement and functional performance of children with disabilities. It contained language similar to NCLB regarding the importance of scientifically-based instruction. Taken together, the overarching message could not be clearer; we must put aside unsubstantiated classroom practices and engage in only those teaching behaviors for which there is strong empirical support. The logic notwithstanding, it is not as simple as it sounds.
In the past decade, the number of studies conducted to determine what constitutes effective classroom practices has increased dramatically (Gable, 2004). However, obstacles to moving that research into practice are many and varied. Among the most pressing issues is the fact that there is no consensus regarding the most appropriate research methodology to support scientifically-based practices (Detrich, 2007; Gersten, Fuchs, Coyne, Greenwood, & Innocenti, 2005; Hughes, 2008). The debate centers on the design of studies, the statistical criterion, and the practical significance of research outcomes. Not surprisingly, there is little unanimity regarding what counts as scientific evidence (Detrich, 2008).
The Wing Institute an independent, non-profit organization based in San Francisco, the What Works Clearinghouse the United States Department of Education’s Institute of Education Science, and the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) (Graham, 2005), and a federal document entitled, “Identifying and Implementing Educational Practices Supported by Rigorous Evidence: A User Friendly Guide” each offer their own perspective on scientifically-based practices. For that reason, we have no common standards against which to judge the worth of a particular strategy.
Even when there is substantial empirical support for a particular strategy, there is no assurance that the strategy is congruent with teacher daily classroom practices or that the strategy will become part of the instructional culture of the school (Detrich, 2007).
Until there is a universal standard regarding what constitutes evidenced-based practices, we must continue to be critical consumers of the professional literature (Cook, Landrum, Tankersley, & Kauffman, 2003) and look for multiple high-quality investigations on the student population of interest. Once a strategy is in place, we must continue to directly and systematically measure its impact on students in our own classrooms (e.g., curriculum-based measurement) and be prepared to make timely adjustments in one or more aspects of instruction. In what follows, we discuss various strategies and procedures that apply to different populations of students for which there is enough empirical support to meet at least a minimum standard of acceptability.
Cook, B., Landrum, T., Tankersley, M., & Kauffman, J.M. (2003). Bringing research to bear on practice: Effecting evi- dence-based instruction for students with emotional/behavioral disorders. Education and Treatment of Children,26(4), 345-361.
Detrich, R. (2007, March). Evidence, ethics and the law. Paper presented at the Association of Positive Behavioral Support Conference, Boston, MA.
Detrich, R. (2008, November). Evidence-base education: Can we get there from here? Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Teacher Education Division of the Council for Exceptional Children, Dallas, TX.
Gable, R.A. (2004). Hard times and an uncertain future: Issues that confront the field of emotional/behavioral disorders. Education and Treatment of Children, 27(4), 341-352.
Gersten, R., Fuchs, L., Coyne, M., Greenwood, C., & Innocenti, M. (2005). Quality indicators for group experimental and quasi-experimental research in special education. Exceptional Children, 71(2), 149-164.
Graham, S. (2005) Criteria for evidence-based practice in special education [Special issue]. Exceptional Children, 71(2).
Hughes, K. (2008). Evidence-based practices –Are we ready? Unpublished manuscript, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. (2004) (reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990).
President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education (2002). A new era: Revitalizing special education for children with disabilities and their families. Washington DC: US Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.