What is a “research-based” program?

What is the research to support the validity of Standards Plus materials?  This is an appropriate question educators ask when they encounter the Standards Plus materials.  Although this same question might be posed by different educators, the questioner’s purpose can vary:

  • Some educators are asking for results from randomized, controlled studies specifically aimed at the Standards Plus materials.
  • Some educators are asking for the research-based practices that are embedded into the Standards Plus materials and implementation model.
  • Some educators are asking for data from sites that have successfully implemented Standards Plus.

In February 2002 the U.S. Department of Education sponsored a seminar where experts presented papers explaining the nature of educational research.  Some papers (Reyna, 2002; Feuer and Towne, 2002; Raudenbush, 2002) described the attributes of high-quality scientific inquiry.  The papers consistently described randomized clinical trials as the benchmark for educational research.

As educators, our practices must be consistent with the type of high-quality research described in these papers.  However, no paper presented at this federal forum (designed to help define No Child Left Behind criteria) advocated that every publisher should submit every program to this level of experimental research.

Although the models described in the forum were consistent, it is not likely many schools have the time or tolerance to participate in randomized experiments with their students.  According to Stephen Raudenbush (2002), if we conduct research, “we’d like to do a randomized experiment, (but) we may not be able to.”  Dr. Raudenbush does not imply that we should not conduct high level research; however, he does acknowledge the practical difficulty of such endeavors.

At the same seminar, Dr. Eunice Greer presented a paper titled “Implications for a Scientific Based Research Approach in Reading” (2002).  In this paper, Dr. Greer stated that a National Reading Panel “sifted through over 100,000 studies” to identify effective strategies for reading instruction. From Dr. Greer’s description, there is no indication that any of the studies involved an analysis of a particular published reading program or specific instructional materials.  Furthermore, the panel did not appear to identify or condone specific published instructional materials or programs. The studies included in the panel’s research were designed to identify effective instructional practices.  Dr. Greer concluded, “We need to support and encourage teachers’ use of research-based practices.”

This brings us back to the initial question: What is a “research-based” program?  According to the NCLB Act of 2001, research based means “the application of rigorous, systematic, and objective procedures to obtain reliable and valid knowledge relevant to educational activities and programs.” According to Feuer and Towne (2002), research is:

“An enterprise that attempts to distill from the cacophony of ideas and anecdotes and impressions, the nuggets of really enduring value, and that kind of knowledge upon which you would want to base important decisions about kids, about schools and about, ultimately, ourselves. And, therefore, you have a double challenge. One of your challenges is to encourage the field of research to provide you with better and better useful evidence.  At the same time, the challenge is to continue to make reasonably good decisions based on the evidence that you have.”

Learning Plus Associates identified an additional challenge: incorporating the effective practices identified in solid educational research into a manageable implementation process supported with high-quality instructional materials that lead to increased student achievement.

As the publisher of the Standards Plus materials, Learning Plus Associates believes that the materials and practices we advocate are consistent with the NCLB criteria for a research-based program. The Standards Plus authors built the lessons to be consistent with current reliable education research regarding effective instructional strategies, and the implementation process is well founded in the effective schools research.  Therefore, the remainder of this paper contains descriptions of the research supporting the Standards Plus implementation methodology as well as the embedded instructional strategies.

To paraphrase Feuer and Towne (2002), the challenge is to continue to make good decisions based on the evidence that you have, and to distill the nuggets of really enduring value.  Learning Plus Associates believes that Standards Plus materials are a nugget of enduring value.