Wednesday, August 06, 2008

What Works

Ever wonder what IS working in education today (and how do you know)? I found this great paper called "Identifying and Implementing Educational Practices Supported Rigorous Evidence: A User Friendly Guide" put out by U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance.

It starts out with this information:

"This Guide seeks to provide educational practitioners with user-friendly tools to distinguish practices supported by rigorous evidence from those that are not."

"If practitioners have the tools to identify evidence-based interventions, they may be able to spark major improvements in their schools and, collectively, in American education.
As illustrative examples of the potential impact of evidence-based interventions on educational outcomes, the following have been found to be effective in randomized controlled trials – research’s “gold standard” for establishing what works:
■ One-on-one tutoring by qualified tutors for at-risk readers in grades 1-3 (the average tutored student reads more proficiently than approximately 75% of the untutored students in the control group).
■ Life-Skills Training for junior high students (low-cost, replicable program reduces smoking by 20% and serious levels of substance abuse by about 30% by the end of high school, compared to the control group).
■ Reducing class size in grades K-3 (the average student in small classes scores higher on the Stanford Achievement Test in reading/math than about 60% of students in regular-sized classes).
■ Instruction for early readers in phonemic awareness and phonics (the average student in these interventions reads more proficiently than approximately 70% of students in the control group)."

It's a pretty good read with guides to what to look for in educational research. Here's the basic overview:

"This Guide seeks to provide assistance to educational practitioners in evaluating whether an educational intervention is backed by rigorous evidence of effectiveness, and in implementing evidence-based interventions in their schools or classrooms. By intervention, we mean an educational practice, strategy, curriculum, or program. The Guide is organized in four parts:

I. A description of the randomized controlled trial, and why it is a critical factor in establishing “strong”evidence of an intervention’s effectiveness;
II. How to evaluate whether an intervention is backed by “strong” evidence of effectiveness;
III. How to evaluate whether an intervention is backed by “possible” evidence of effectiveness; and
IV. Important factors to consider when implementing an evidence-based intervention in your schools or classrooms."

They give definitions and then examples of good research.

Here's one piece of research that we've likely all heard of and wondered about:


The Tennessee Class-Size Experiment – a large, multi-site randomized controlled trial involving 12,000 students – showed that a state program that significantly reduced class size for public school students in grades K-3 had positive effects on educational outcomes. For example, the average student in the small classes scored higher on the Stanford Achievement Test in reading and math than about 60 percent of the students in the regular-sized classes, and this effect diminished only slightly at the fifth grade follow-up.

Based largely on these results, in 1996 the state of California launched a much larger, state-wide class-size reduction effort for students in grades K-3. But to implement this effort, California schools hired 25,000 new K-3 teachers, many with low qualifications. Thus the proportion of fully-credentialed K-3 teachers fell in most California schools, with the largest drop (16 percent) occurring in the schools serving the lowest-income students. By contrast, all the teachers in the Tennessee study were fully qualified. This difference in implementation may account for the fact that, according to preliminary comparison-group data, class-size reduction in California may not be having as large an impact as in Tennessee."

Interesting reading and good to keep in your bookmarks in case you have questions about an educational intervention.

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