IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Looking for evidence outside of the scope of the WWC?

by Chris Weiss and Erin Pollard, What Works Clearinghouse

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) strives to be a central and trusted source of research evidence for what works in education. But did you know that the WWC is one of several repositories of evidence produced by the federal government? Our mission at the WWC is to review the existing research on different programs, products, practices, and policies in education to provide educators with the information they need to make evidence-based decisions. However, there are several other government repositories that review evidence on interventions that impact children and schools, reviews that may be of use and interest to WWC users.

 

Different Clearinghouses for Different Needs.

The mission of the different clearinghouses and the reasons for different reviews stems from the unique mission of each agency and the specific focus of the clearinghouse. The Department of Education focuses primarily on prekindergarten through postsecondary education; however, many public health and crime prevention programs are implemented through schools. So, for example, you would find information about a school-based bullying prevention program on the National Institute of Justice’s Crime Solutions website. The WWC would not review the evidence of this program’s effectiveness because its aim is to reduce bullying and victimization, rather than education-focused outcomes.

 

Some interventions are reviewed by multiple clearinghouses.

Users are often surprised that an intervention might be reviewed by multiple clearinghouses. For example, the WWC reviewed the evidence and created an intervention report on Career Academies, a school-within-school program where students take both career-related and academic courses, as well as acquire work experience. But reviews of the program are included in other clearinghouses. The Department of Labor’s CLEAR reviewed the study because of the intervention’s increase of student’s earnings. Similarly, the National Institute of Justice’s Crime Solutions has reviewed the intervention because it showed an effect on increasing earnings of young men – an economic factor linked to lowered risk of criminal activity. Each clearinghouse looked at different outcomes from the same study to highlight the domains they find most relevant to achieving their goal.

 

Each repository is different. The WWC may be your best bet – or others may fit your needs better.

We encourage users to look at the other clearinghouses to find information on outcomes that are outside of our scope. These sites have a lot of great information to offer. Here is a list of the other repositories for finding evidence:

  • Clearinghouse for Labor Evaluation and Research (CLEAR) – Department of Labor. CLEAR's mission is to make research on labor topics more accessible to practitioners, policymakers, researchers, and the public more broadly so that it can inform their decisions about labor policies and programs. CLEAR identifies and summarizes many types of research, including descriptive statistical studies and outcome analyses, implementation, and causal impact studies.
  • Compendium of Evidence-Based Interventions and Best Practices for HIV Prevention - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Evidence-Based Interventions and Best Practices in the Compendium are identified by CDC’s Prevention Research Synthesis Project through a series of ongoing systematic reviews. Each eligible intervention is evaluated against explicit a priori criteria and has shown sufficient evidence that the intervention works. Interventions may fall into one or more chapters including: Risk Reduction that includes PrEP-related outcomes and outcomes such as injection drug use, condom use, HIV/STD/Hepatitis infection; Linkage to, Retention in, and Re-engagement in HIV Care that includes outcomes such as entering and staying in HIV care; Medication Adherence that includes outcomes such as adhering to HIV medication and HIV viral load; and the most recently added Structural Interventions that includes outcomes such as HIV testing, social determinants of health, and stigma. Information sheets are available for all identified evidence-based interventions and best practices on the PRS Compendium Website.
  • CrimeSolutions - National Institute of Justice, Department of Justice. The clearinghouse, accessible via the CrimeSolutions.gov website, present programs and practices that have undergone rigorous evaluations and meta-analyses. The site assesses the strength of the evidence about whether these programs achieve criminal justice, juvenile justice, and crime victim services outcomes in order to inform practitioners and policy makers about what works, what doesn't, and what's promising.
  • Evidence Exchange - Corporation for National and Community Service. A digital repository of sponsored research, evaluation reports, and data. These resources focus on national service, volunteering, and civic engagement.
  • Home Visiting Evidence of Effectiveness (HomVEE) – Administration for Children and Families, Department of Health and Human Services. HomVEE provides an assessment of the evidence of effectiveness for home visiting models that target families with pregnant women and children from birth to kindergarten entry (that is, up through age 5).
  • Teen Pregnancy Prevention (TPP) Evidence Review – Department of Health and Human Services. A transparent systematic review of the teen pregnancy prevention literature to identify programs with evidence of effectiveness in reducing teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and associated sexual risk behaviors.
  • The Community Guide - Community Preventive Services Task Force (CPSTF). A collection of evidence-based findings to help you select interventions to improve health and prevent disease in your state, community, community organization, business, healthcare organization, or school. The CPSTF issues findings based on systematic reviews of effectiveness and economic evidence that are conducted with a methodology developed by the CPSTF.
  • youth.gov – Interagency. The youth.gov Program Directory features evidence-based programs whose purpose is to prevent and/or reduce delinquency or other problem behaviors in young people.

The WWC Evidence Standards: A Valuable and Accessible Resource for Teaching Validity Assessment of Causal Inferences to Identify What Works

by Herbert Turner, Ph.D., President and Principal Scientist, ANALYTICA, Inc.

 

The WWC Evidence Standards (hereafter, the Standards) provide a detailed description of the criteria used by the WWC to review studies. The standards were first developed in 2002 by leading methodological researchers using initial concepts from the Study Design and Implementation Assessment Device (DIAD), an instrument for assessing the correspondence between the methodological characteristics and implementation of social science research and using this research to draw inferences about causal relationships (Boruch, 1997; Valentine and Cooper, 2008).  During the past 16 years, the Standards have gone through four iterations of improvement, to keep pace with advances in methodological practice, and have been through rigorous peer review. The most recent of these is now codified in the WWC Standards Handbook 4.0 (hereafter, the Handbook).

 

Across the different versions of the Handbook, the methodological characteristics of an internally valid study, designed to causally infer the effect of an intervention on an outcome, have stood the test of time. These characteristics can be summarized as follows: A strong design starts with how the study groups are formed. It continues with use of reliable and valid measures of outcomes, has low attrition if a randomized controlled trial (RCT), shows baseline equivalence (in the analysis sample) if a quasi-experimental design (QED), and has no confounds.

 

These elements are the critical components of any strong research design – and are the cornerstones of all versions of the WWC’s standards. That fact, along with the transparent description of their logical underpinning, is what motivated me to use Standards 4.0 (for Group Designs) as the organizing framework for understanding study validity in a graduate-level Program Evaluation II course I taught at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education.

 

In spring 2017, nine Master and four Doctoral students participated in this semester-long course. The primary goal was to teach students how to organize their thinking and logically derive internal validity criteria using Standards 4.0—augmented with additional readings from the methodological literature. Students used the Standards (along with the supplemental readings) to design, implement, analyze, and report impact evaluations to determine what interventions work, harm, or have no discernible effect (Mosteller and Boruch, 2002). The Standards Handbook 4.0 along with online course modules were excellent resources to augment the lectures and provide Lynch School students with hands on learning.

 

At the end of the course, students were offered the choice to complete the WWC Certification Exam for Group Design or take the instructor’s developed final exam. All thirteen students chose to complete the WWC Certification Exam. Approximately half of the students became certified. Many emailed me personally to express their appreciation for the (1) opportunity to learn a systematic approach to organizing their thinking about assessing the validity of causal inference using data generated by RCTs and QEDs, and (2) developing design skills that can be used in other graduate courses and beyond. The WWC Evidence Standards and related online resources are a valuable, accessible, and free resource that have been rigorously vetted for close to two decades. The Standards have few equals as a resource to help students think systematically, logically, and clearly about designing (and evaluating) a valid research study to make causal inferences about what interventions work in education and related fields.

 

References

Boruch, R. F. (1997). Randomized experiments for planning and evaluation: A practical guide. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Valentine, J.C., & Cooper, H. (2008), A systematic and transparent approach for assessing the methodological quality of intervention effectiveness research: The Study Design and Implementation Assessment Device (Study DIAD). Psychological Methods, 13(2), 130-149.

Mosteller, F., & Boruch, R. F. (2002). Evidence matters: Randomized trials in education research. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press.

Making the WWC Open to Everyone by Moving WWC Certification Online

In December 2016, the What Works Clearinghouse made a version of its online training publicly available through the WWC Website. This enabled everyone to be able to access the Version 3.0 Group Design Standards reviewer training to learn about the standards and methods that the WWC uses. While this was a great step to increase access to WWC resources, users still had to go through the 1 ½ day, in-person training to become a WWC certified reviewer.

To continue our efforts to promote access and transparency and make our resources available to everyone, the WWC has now moved all of its group design training to be online. Now everyone will have access to the same training and certification tests. This certification is available free of charge and is open to all users. It is our hope that this effort will increase the number of certified reviewers and help increase general awareness about the WWC.

Why did the WWC make these resources publicly available? As part of IES’s effort to increase access to high quality education research, we wanted to make it easier for researchers to use our standards. This meant opening up training opportunities and offering training online was a way to achieve this goal while using limited taxpayer resources most efficiently.

The online training consists of 9 modules. These videos feature an experienced WWC instructor and use the same materials that we used in our in-person courses, but adapted to Version 4.0 of the Group Design Standards. After completing the modules, users will have the opportunity to download a certificate of completion, take the online certification test, or go through the full certification exam.

Becoming a fully certified reviewer will require users to take a multiple choice online certification test and then use the new Online SRG application to conduct a full review using the same tools that the WWC team uses. The WWC team will then grade your exam to make sure you fully understand how to apply the Standards before certifying you to review for the Clearinghouse.

Not interested in becoming a certified reviewer? Online training still has several benefits. Educators can embed our videos in their course websites and use our training materials in their curricula. Researchers can use our Online SRG tool with their publications to determine a preliminary rating and understand what factors could cause their study to get the highest rating. They could also use the tool to use when conducting a systematic evidence review.

Have ideas for new resources we could make available? Email your ideas and suggestions to Contact.WWC@ed.gov!

by Erin Pollard, WWC Project Officer

 

Improving the WWC Standards and Procedures

By Chris Weiss and Jon Jacobson

For the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC), standards and procedures are at the foundation of the WWC’s work to provide scientific evidence for what works in education. They guide how studies are selected for review, what elements of an effectiveness study are examined, and how systematic reviews are conducted. The WWC’s standards and procedures are designed to be rigorous and reflective of best practices in research and statistics, while also being aspirational to help point the field of education effectiveness research toward an ever-higher quality of study design and analysis.

To keep pace with new advances in methodological research and provide necessary clarifications for both education researchers and decision makers, the WWC regularly updates its procedures and standards and shares them with the field. We recently released Version 4.0 of the Procedures and Standards Handbooks, which describes the five steps of the WWC’s systematic review process.

For this newest version, we have divided information into two separate documents (see graphic below).  The Procedures Handbook describes how the WWC decides which studies to review and how it reports on study findings. The Standards Handbook describes how the WWC rates the evidence from studies.

The new Standards Handbook includes several improvements, including updated and overhauled standards for cluster-level assignment of students; a new approach for reviewing studies that have some missing baseline or outcome data; and revised standards for regression discontinuity designs. The new Procedures Handbook includes a revised discussion of how the WWC defines a study.  All of the changes are summarized on the WWC website (PDF).

Making the Revisions

These updates were developed in a careful, collaborative manner that included experts in the field, external peer review, and input from the public.

Staff from the Institute of Education Sciences oversaw the process with the WWC’s Statistical, Technical, and Analysis Team (STAT), a panel of highly experienced researchers who revise and develop the WWC standards. In addition, the WWC sought and received input from experts on specific research topics, including regression discontinuity designs, cluster-level assignment, missing data, and complier average causal effects. Based on this information, drafts of the standards and procedures handbooks were developed.

External peer reviewers then provided input that led to additional revisions and, in the summer, the WWC posted drafts and gathered feedback from the public. The WWC’s response to some of the comments is available on its website (PDF).   

Version 4.0 of the Handbooks was released on October 26. This update focused on a few key areas of the standards, and updated and clarified some procedures. However, the WWC strives for continuous improvement and as the field of education research continues to evolve and improve, we expect that there will be new techniques and new tools incorporated into future versions the Handbooks.

Your thoughts, ideas, and suggestions are welcome and can be submitted through the WWC help desk.

Gathering Public Input to Help IES Improve

UPDATED SEPTEMBER 5, 2017 

The Institute of Education Sciences is committed to continuous improvement and this includes gathering public input on our work and our resources. Right now, we are seeking feedback on two important aspects of our work:

  • Two of our research goals, Efficacy and Replication and Effectiveness; and
  • Revisions to the What Works Clearinghouse Standards and Procedures handbooks.

Brief overviews of these opportunities are below, with links to where you can get more information and how to submit input. And, as always, if you have thoughts or ideas on how IES can better serve the field, please email us at Contact.IES@ed.gov.

IES Research Goals

IES is seeking input on how we can improve our education and special education research programs, specifically around two of our five research goals—Efficacy and Replication (Goal 3), and Effectiveness (Goal 4). We want to know if these goals, as currently configured, are meeting the needs of the field and whether we should consider changes that would support more replication and effectiveness studies.

The request for feedback comes after IES convened a group of experts to discuss what should come after an efficacy study. This Technical Working Group met last fall and looked at the replication and effectiveness studies that IES has funded over the years and made suggestions on actions IES could take to increase the visibility and support of replication studies, encourage more effectiveness research, and further our understanding of causal mechanisms, variability in impacts, and implementation factors. We shared some of the findings and suggestions in a blog post earlier this year and posted a summary of the working group’s discussion on the IES website (PDF).

Please take a few moments to read the Invitation for Public Comment letter to see the specific questions we are seeking to answer, and send your input and ideas to Comments.Research@ed.gov. We ask that you respond by Monday, October 2, 2017.

What Works Clearinghouse Handbooks

IES is also seeking feedback on revisions to the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) Procedures and Standards Handbooks. The handbooks describe how the WWC reviews effectiveness research to determine what works in public education.

The proposed Handbooks (WWC Standards and WWC Procedures will now have separate handbooks) have been developed by the WWC in consultation with experts and are made available to users in draft form as part of the process for updating WWC standards. The handbooks can be reviewed on the WWC website and any comments can be sent to contact.wwc@ed.gov. Feedback is requested by August 30. (SEPT. 5 UPDATE: The deadline for submitting feedback has passed although questions and ideas are welcome at the same address.) 

The revisions to WWC handbooks are part of the WWC's ongoing work to increase transparency, refine its processes, develop new standards, and create new products. In fact, the WWC recently launched a new product that was developed based on public input.

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Compiled by Dana Tofig, Communications Director, IES