Practitioners’ use of research evidence tools (Best Evidence in Brief)

There is a new Best Evidence in Brief and this time I picked this study from this biweekly newsletter written up by Andrea Ochoa, Johns Hopkins University:

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires schools and districts to use evidence-based programs to improve outcomes for students. Thus, to understand how this requirement informs decision-making regarding the selection of curricular programs, in her study, Yoshizawa observed meetings and conducted interviews with practitioners in three different school districts in one state. The state education agency provided school districts with access to optional professional development on using tools such as Evidence for ESSA and the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC). Additionally, school districts received a handbook that explained how to document their reform initiatives and justify decisions using research.

The study found that the district- and school-level practitioners used the tools suggested by the state education agency but made decisions regarding curricular purchases in nuanced ways. Practitioners used their own background knowledge regarding program effectiveness and weighed it against evidence. Additionally, they drew from different understandings of what constitutes evidence and placed sources of evidence at odds with one another. The author found that the push to use instrumental research in decision-making increased the use of evidence. However, practitioner expertise and teacher capacity weighed more heavily when existing decisions were at odds with the research evidence tools. To decrease the gap between research and practice, the findings suggest systematic and tailored professional development on instrumental research use should be provided for different stakeholder levels, including district curriculum specialists, school principals, and teachers.

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