What Are Evidence-Based Practices in Education?
Voyager Sopris Learning
Charles Dickens once wrote, “Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There’s no better rule.” While he wasn’t specifically referring to the education world, the sentiment can still be applied to educational practices. Evidence-based practice, or EBP for short, is a teaching theory that refers to teaching methods, strategies, and interventions researched and proven to be effective through rigorous scientific studies and empirical evidence. Some of the educational research may include controlled trials, experimental studies, and systematic reviews of literature.
Evidence-based practices should be implemented in the classroom because they allow teachers to provide students with a high-quality curriculum and instruction that can improve educational outcomes for students. There are several different types of evidence-based practices that can be implemented, and the implementation process may be easier than one might assume.
As with all practices, there are benefits and challenges to using evidence-based practices in education. For example, the Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO) conducted studies to see how often Australian teachers are using evidence-based teaching strategies and the effectiveness of those strategies. But for most, the benefits tend to outweigh the challenges—making the time and effort all worth it.
What is Evidence-Based Practice in Education?
It may or may not be surprising to hear education has not always held to evidence-based practices. Traditional practices tend to rely more on personal experience and opinion. While there should be some personal experience and opinion in the classroom, much of the core of education should rely on research-based methods, strategies, and practices that support students with quality, proven instruction.
The Glossary of Education Reform explains the shift toward evidence-based education this way: “Historically, educators had to rely largely on personal experience, professional judgment, past practices, established conventions, and other subjective factors to make decisions about how and what to teach—all of which could potentially be inaccurate, misguided, biased, or even detrimental to students. With the advent of modern data systems and research techniques, educators now have access to more objective, precise, and accurate information about student learning, academic achievement, and educational attainment.”
There are advantages and disadvantages to all teaching strategies; however, because the advantages seem to outweigh the disadvantages, the use of evidence-based practices is becoming more important in schools.
Evidence-based practices provide educators with reliable, research-based tools that have many benefits over some of the more traditional practices. Evidence-based practice is more objective because its basis is research evidence rather than personal opinion. Traditional practices are often based on personal experience or anecdotal evidence rather than scientific studies and research findings. Because of this, evidence-based practice tends to be more rigorous due to the in-depth levels of analysis and evaluation it goes through during a systematic review.
The Importance of Evidence-Based Practice in Education
Evidence-based practice in education is important because it promotes a culture of continuous improvement for both the teacher and the student. Evidence-based education is continually evolving and refining based on new research and data, which often encourages teachers to continually evaluate and fine-tune their teaching strategies. As students see teachers go through the process of evaluation and adjustment, they see good examples of flexibility and growth mindset in action.
Evidence-based teaching has been found to have a positive impact on student achievement in many ways. It increases engagement, provides better retention and transfer of knowledge, improves overall academic performance, and even enhances social-emotional development as well. With all of these impacts combined, evidence-based practices actually have more improved long-term outcomes than traditional practices.
When school leaders implement more evidence-based teaching into their system, educators can help ensure students are receiving high-quality instruction. School improvement leads to student improvement. As teachers strive to help students reach their full potential, schools may also see increases in high school graduation rates, higher college enrollment, and better career outcomes.
The Australian Journal of Learning Disabilities stated, “The National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy has pointed to, and urged us to follow, a direction similar to that taken recently in Great Britain and the USA toward evidence-based practice.” The advantages of evidence-based methods are being recognized globally, which points to further evidence of its importance in each and every classroom.
Types of Evidence-Based Practices in Education
There are several types of evidence-based practices that can be analyzed and combined to provide a well-rounded, well-researched approach to teaching. Each type of practice offers a different focus of application, such as the school, the student, and the teacher.
Schools must prioritize evidence-based curriculum in their classrooms, starting from the beginning in kindergarten. The curriculum is a core part of the what of education, and therefore it must be founded on data and evidence rather than just opinion and experience.
For example, when it comes to choosing a highly effective reading curriculum for kindergarten students, one of the first steps is to base the curriculum on recent research. The science of reading has vast amounts of research that should be taken into consideration when creating a reading curriculum for all grade levels.
Some of the advantages of evidence-based curriculum include improved alignment with standards, more efficient use of resources, increased teacher effectiveness, and improved student outcomes. However, evidence-based curriculum also has the potential disadvantages of causing teachers to be too narrowly focused on academic outcomes and possibly overly reliant on research, resulting in overlooking or undervaluing their own expertise or judgment.
When it comes to students who may be struggling with a certain concept or idea, evidence-based intervention is a vital step for student success. Intervention is the time to lean on proven strategies to get students back on track for progress and growth.
For example, when it comes to reading interventions, the Florida Department of Education identified “scientifically researched and evidenced-based reading instructional and intervention programs that incorporate explicit, systematic and sequential approaches to teaching phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and text comprehension and incorporate decodable or phonetic text instructional practices.” That list of resources aims to help teachers decide what interventions may work best in their given situations.
Evidence-based interventions have been effective in improving student outcomes in a variety of areas, such as academic achievement, behavioral outcomes, and social-emotional learning. These interventions are also extremely advantageous to teachers because they help with decision-making in more high-stakes situations. However, sometimes evidence-based interventions can cause people to potentially feel less flexible to tailor intervention to meet the unique needs of individual students.
Teachers should not have to feel the weight of this responsibility themselves. There are a number of professional development opportunities that can help teachers with methodology, data collection, learning styles, decision-making, education programs, and more. There are many professional development opportunities founded in and explain more about evidence-based education.
Evidence-based professional development can improve teacher effectiveness by making teachers more confident in their ability to meet the needs of their students and to better use the research-based practices in their classroom. However, there is also the potential that this type of professional development can overwhelm educators with an influx of data, research, and training that may take away time, attention, and focus from actual teaching.
Identifying and Selecting Evidence-Based Practices
Identifying evidence-based practices can be done in a few simple steps. After identifying a problem or area of focus, a thorough research review should be conducted, and the quality of the research should be evaluated. This, combined with a careful consideration of any other factors, like student demographics, school culture, and available resources, will help educators select the most effective practice.
There are a few things to consider when finally selecting a certain evidence-based method to implement. First, make sure the resources are up to date and reputable. Resources from peer-reviewed journals, professional organizations, and government agencies from within the past five to 10 years typically provide updated, high-quality evidence. Also, comprehensive resources such as systematic review and meta-analyses offer a more complete and reliable evaluation of a particular topic because they look at multiple studies to get an overall picture of the topic or practice in consideration.
Along with the things to consider in this process, there are things to avoid as well. For example, using outdated or irrelevant evidence is an obvious practice to avoid. Also, educators should be careful not to ignore conflicting evidence. Finally, educators should avoid either extreme of considering personal beliefs and experiences in the classroom. While they shouldn’t rely too much on personal beliefs and experiences, they also should not ignore them.
Implementing Evidence-Based Practices in the Classroom
Once teachers have identified and selected evidence-based practices they want to use in their classroom, planning and preparation are critical steps in implementing these practices. Teachers should gather resources such as curriculum materials or any technology needed for implementation. Then, teachers can create their plan around the learning objectives, timelines, specific activities, teaching strategies, and the evaluation process that coincide with the evidence-based practice.
It is also important teachers seek training and support throughout this process. Attending professional learning opportunities and developing a support network of colleagues, administrators, or experts will ensure teachers are not going through this process alone.
Monitoring and evaluating these practices as they are being implemented is a key step for effective teaching. This may involve collecting data on student outcomes and making adjustments as needed.
The benefits of evidence-based practice in education have a long-lasting effect on students. As we use research to improve our schools and curriculum, we are improving the lives of our students. This may seem overwhelming at first based on the vast amount of research and evidence circulating about education, but with the right steps, resources, and support, teachers can feel confident walking into their classrooms each day. Voyager Sopris Learning® values evidence-based practices and offers resources to support teachers in their pursuit of enhancing student performance.