Selecting An Evidence-Based Practice or Program

February 24, 2010, The IRIS Center

Larry Wexler

Larry Wexler, PhD
U.S. Department of Education Office
of Special Education Programs
Mel Riddle

Mel Riddile, EdD
2006 MetLife-NASSP
High School Principal of the Year
Joseph Torgensen

Joseph Torgesen, PhD
Florida Center for Reading Research

A panel of experts discusses the selection of an evidence-based practice or program (time: 7:42).

Questions asked of the expert panel in this audio:

  1. Dr. Wexler, what should school personnel consider when selecting an instructional practice?
  2. Dr. Riddile, what additional advice would you give to school leaders who are selecting an instructional practice?
  3. Dr. Torgesen, what special considerations should school personnel contemplate when choosing an evidence-based reading program?

Transcript: Larry Wexler, PhD, Mel Riddile, EdD, Joseph Torgesen, PhD

A panel of experts discusses the selection of an evidence-based practice or program (time: 7:42).

Narrator: Larry Wexler is Director of the Research to Practice Division at the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs. Dr. Wexler, what should school personnel consider when selecting an instructional practice?

Larry Wexler: If you’re choosing a curriculum or an intervention, you want to look at a number of things. One is the context or the set of circumstances, including place in which the curriculum or intervention will be implemented. And you might ask questions such as how widely used is this curriculum? Was it developed to address issues similar to mine? For which grades or ages or sub-groups, including children with disability, is the curriculum or intervention appropriate?

If the curriculum is for learning-disabled children and you decide that you want to implement it for children with visual impairments then you’re implementing something that it wasn’t designed to do. You might ask, is the curriculum or intervention aligned with state and district standards? Are the staff that you’re targeting prepared to implement the curriculum or intervention? Are you reaching too far? Is it too intense? Does it go beyond the resources that you have? The second question you’d asked is, does the evidence exist to support the efficacy of the curriculum or intervention? Were conditions in the study similar to the ones in my setting? So if the study that supported the development of this curriculum was done with groups of thirty and you want to do it with a group of 100, are you likely to get the same results? If the study was done only in one type of environment and your environment’s completely different, you would have to question whether it will be effective and is it the right one to purchase. Do studies show that this curriculum or intervention has a positive impact on student outcomes? And are those outcomes the same outcomes that you’d want impacted by an intervention under consideration?

There’s a lot of great programs out there that don’t necessarily do what you need to have done. And another question you might ask is, does the curriculum or intervention show consistent success over a period of time? You want more than just a slice, more than a snapshot that it was implemented with a small group for a short period of time and that that’s the basis of the evidence. Other questions you would probably ask are, are the resources or source of support—including funding and personnel that’ll be required to successfully implement and sustain the use of the curriculum or program—are those resources adequate? How much does it cost? Do you have the support to do that? What kind of staff support do you need? If it’s a program that requires a one-to-three ratio and you have a one-to-ten ratio, is it the right one for you to get? What kind of equipment or software are included, as opposed to you having to purchase? How in-depth is the training required to implement and how expensive is that? And will the developer of the curriculum offer some kind of extended support?

Narrator: Mel Riddile is the Associate Director for High School Services at the National Association of Secondary School Principals and was the 2006 MetLife-NASSP High School Principal of the Year. Dr. Riddile, what additional advice would you give to school leaders who are selecting an instructional practice?

Mel Riddile: School leaders need to understand how to read the research, how to interpret it, and how to look at different tools that match the needs of their students. The problem that most secondary school leaders have is determining what’s best for their school. That takes a level of sophistication. What they can do, though, is to consult experts and knowledgeable people, and also through their own personal learning networks, connect with peers in like schools that are doing things that are working for them, and really looking at what is the evidence that this is working?

Narrator: Joe Torgesen is the Director Emeritus of the Florida Center for Reading Research. Dr. Torgesen, what special considerations should school personnel contemplate when choosing an evidence-based reading program?

Joseph Torgesen: Well, I think it’s important to understand, first of all, that it takes a considerable investment of time to identify reading programs that are consistent with research and best instructional practices. It’s much more than a matter of sitting down with a committee of teachers and spending an hour going through and looking at the materials in a cursory way. It takes a lot of time because there really are a number of elements to effective instruction, in addition to just the content. I think it does take considerable expertise in reading instruction to effectively review programs and then to select ones that have the right balance of explicit instruction, meaningful reading activities, systematic review, and focus practice opportunities. So it’s pretty complex. When schools begin to think about the right kind of reading program for their students, they really need to give careful thought to the nature of their students, and particularly their preparation for learning to read. For example, if a school has a high proportion of students who arrive at school with very little literacy experience in the home, they’ll need a program with more powerful explicit instruction components and really careful pacing and review so that there aren’t gaps in their learning. They need a program that is very well structured and is really systematic in the way it covers all of the critical dimensions. If students have strong support for home literacy growth, then the reading program they use at school can probably move faster, at least through many of the basic elements. There can be a bit more emphasis, perhaps, on creative or exploratory activities.

Another thing that schools really have to think about when they are trying to identify a program that will meet their needs is the level of skill of the teachers, and the amount of teacher turnover that they have at their school. So the schools that have a lot of brand new teachers who don’t have much teaching experience or high teacher turnover should really consider a pretty structured program that provides strong professional development support.

Narrator: Thank you for listening to this episode of the IRIS Center podcast. For more information about the IRIS Center and its resources, visit us at www.iriscenter.com [https://iris.peabody.vanderbilt.edu/].

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