Evidence-Based Practices (Part 1): Identifying and Selecting a Practice or Program
In general, an evidence-based practice or program is one that is supported by strong research evidence demonstrating its effectiveness. Although identifying and selecting an EBP is not always easy, implementing one has many benefits for teachers and students (e.g., increased likelihood of positive student outcomes, less wasted time and fewer wasted resources trying a variety of practices or programs).
To begin the identification and selection process, you need to know what type of practice or program you are looking for and the skill or behavior you want to address. Once you have done this, you must choose a practice or program that is right for you. You need to consider:
Student population and setting
The list of available EBPs is constantly changing and being brought up to date. However, there are a number of trustworthy sources, such as the ones provided in this module, that you can use to identify and select a practice or program that has been shown to be effective for students similar to your own. If you do not find a practice or program that meets your needs through one of these sources, consider reviewing the research literature yourself and identifying a practice or program that is potentially effective for your student(s).
Listen as Lisa Sanetti and Bryan Cook review important aspects of identifying and selecting an evidence-based practice or program.
Lisa Sanetti, PhD Co-PI, Project PRIME Associate Professor, Neag School of Education University of Connecticut
Well, I think that there’s really quite a few benefits to using evidence-based practices, and the first of which is just that if we’re going to expend a lot of time and energy to try to improve outcomes for the students in our schools, we want to be able to use things that we know are more likely to be effective. We know that evidence-based practices have been rigorously evaluated and are known to be effective with certain populations of students. And so we’re more likely to get improved student outcomes if we implement those evidence-based practices with fidelity. So if you’re trying to find an evidence-based practice to help a particular student or group of students, and you come across single-case design research, that can be a great way to look to see whether a practice or a program may help the students that you’re interested in helping. So you certainly want to be sure that you’re looking at the methods of the study to see if the target problem is very similar to that that you’re trying to address, and also to look and see if the setting and the students are very similar to those that you’re trying to work with and if you would have the resources to implement the intervention that’s described. After looking at that, if you think that it looks like a fairly good alignment with your setting and students and target problem then certainly you want to go ahead and read through the rest of the study, look at those results, see how much progress the students made over what course of time. It gives you an idea of what rate of progress you might hope to expect, and many times you might be able to implement the intervention based on what the information that’s available in the method’s section.
An evidence-based practice or program is one that’s been evaluated through multiple studies and it’s been shown to be effective. And we know that there is a slight difference between evidence-based practices and programs. There can be different levels of evidence that are available for a practice or program, going from emerging practices that have initial support to those that really have a wide range of evaluations showing their effectiveness across different research groups and across different students. Evidence-based practices are more likely to result in positive student outcomes. And so certainly we would want educators to use evidence-based practices and programs as much as possible. And it’s actually mandated by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act as well as Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. And so we really find this to be an ongoing practice in schools and a new movement or growing movement in schools, which is wonderful because we know there are lots of benefits. We’re going to waste less time in trying to get the outcomes we’re looking for. We’re going to use fewer resources, because you’re starting off with an effective practice or program. We want to look at those evaluations that have been done on the practice or program and look at the students in the setting. Are those similar to the school that you’re in? Do you have the resources to implement this intervention? And how much evidence is there? Because every classroom in every school is different, and so we know that different practices may be better fits for different places. There’s also a great number of resources that are available online now for identifying different practices, and we really encourage educators to go to some of those resources and see if they can find practices that will fit their particular needs.
Transcript: Bryan Cook, PhD
Single-case designs can be a great source for determining the effectiveness of a practice or identifying evidence-based practices, especially for learners with disabilities. Because for many low-incidence populations where there’s just not a lot of individuals with the particular disability or condition in a school setting or in a district or in an area, it’s very difficult if not impossible to do a group research study.
When I think about identifying and selecting an evidence-based practice, I think most of us accept the idea that we want to strive to use evidence-based practices, but it’s really important that we put the time and effort into selecting an appropriate evidence-based practice that’s most likely to work for our students in our setting and for us as teachers. If we don’t put the time in up front to identify the right evidence-based practice—if it isn’t a good match for your learners, if it isn’t a good match with your resources, if it isn’t a good match for you and your teaching setting—then it’s not necessarily any more likely to be effective than another practice that isn’t evidence-based. Somewhere out there, there’s some indication that virtually anything works, and if we allow ourselves to kind of selectively filter the information that we’re looking at we can find support for virtually any practice out there. So it’s important to be systematic and honest with ourselves in looking at what resources we have available, looking at the characteristics of our students, looking at the characteristics of our setting, and finding evidence-based practices based on reliable resources out there like the What Works Clearinghouse and other organizations. The whole point of evidence-based practices, I think, is to make these complicated decisions easy for practitioners and other stakeholders, so they can go to a trustworthy source and say, “Oh, this works this works, this works” and, “Oh, this doesn’t, this doesn’t, this doesn’t,” instead of having to try to figure out this on their own.
Revisiting Initial Thoughts
Think back to your initial responses to the following questions. After working through the resources in this module, do you still agree with your Initial Thoughts? If not, what aspects of your answers would you change?
What is an evidence-based practice or program (EBP)?
How can education professionals identify and select evidence-based practices or programs?
When you are ready, proceed to the Assessment section.