NCEE Blog

National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance

Seeking your feedback on the Regional Educational Laboratory program

IES is seeking feedback about what is working well in the current Regional Educational Laboratories (REL) program, what can be improved, and the kinds of resources and services related to evidence-based practice and data use that are most needed by educators and policymakers to improve student outcomes. We are seeking comments that are practical, specific, and actionable, and that demonstrate a familiarity with the mission and work of the RELs.

We are particularly interested in responses to these questions:

  • What types of materials or tools would be helpful to educators implementing What Works Clearinghouse Practice Guide Recommendations or other evidence-based practices? Are there other ways the RELs could make research evidence more accessible for educators and administrators?
     
  • What types of data and research support are most needed by educators and policymakers to improve student outcomes?
     
  • IES believes that robust partnerships, comprised of a diverse set of stakeholders, are critical to the translation and mobilization of evidence-based practices. Currently, research partnerships are a centerpiece of the REL program. What working models have you observed to be particularly effective in improving student outcomes?  
     
  • In what ways can RELs best serve the country as well as their designated regions?

Please send feedback to NCEE.Feedback@ed.gov by September 6, 2019. 

 

Leading experts provide evidence-based recommendations on using technology to support postsecondary student learning

By Michael Frye and Sarah Costelloe. Both are part of Abt Associates team working on the What Works Clearinghouse.

Technology is part of almost every aspect of college life. Colleges use technology to improve student retention, offer active and engaging learning, and help students become more successful learners. The What Works Clearinghouse’s latest practice guide, Using Technology to Support Postsecondary Student Learning, offers several evidence-based recommendations to help higher education instructors, instructional designers, and administrators use technology to improve student learning outcomes.

IES practice guides incorporate research, practitioner experience, and expert opinions from a panel of nationally recognized experts. The panel that developed Using Technology to Support Postsecondary Student Learning included five experts with many years of experience leading the adoption, use, and research of technology in postsecondary classrooms.  Together, guided by Abt Associates’ review of the rigorous research on the topic, the Using Technology to Support Postsecondary Student Learning offers five evidence-based recommendations:

Practice Recommendations: Use communication and collaboration tools to increase interaction among students and between students and instructors, Minimal evidence. 2. Use varied, personalized, and readily available digital resources to design and deliver instructional content, moderate evidence. 3. Incorporate technology that models and fosters self-regulated learning strategies. Moderate evidence. 4. Use technology to provide timely and targeted feedback on student performance, moderate evidence. 5. Use simulation technologies that help students engage in complex problem-solving, minimal evidence.

 

Each recommendation is assigned an evidence level of minimal, moderate, or strong. The level of evidence reflects how well the research demonstrates the effectiveness of the recommended practices. For an explanation of how levels of evidence are determined, see the Practice Guide Level of Evidence Video.   The evidence-based recommendations also include research-based strategies and examples for implementation in postsecondary settings. Together, the recommendations highlight five interconnected themes that the practice guide’s authors suggest readers consider:

  • Focus on how technology is used, not on the technology itself.

“The basic act of teaching has actually changed very little by the introduction of technology into the classroom,” said panelist MJ Bishop, “and that’s because simply introducing a new technology changes nothing unless we first understand the need it is intended to fill and how to capitalize on its unique capabilities to address that need.” Because technology evolves rapidly, understanding specific technologies is less important than understanding how technology can be used effectively in college settings. “By understanding how a learning outcome can be enhanced and supported by technologies,” said panelist Jennifer Sparrow, “the focus stays on the learner and their learning.”

  • Technology should be aligned to specific learning goals.

Every recommendation in this guide is based on one idea: finding ways to use technology to engage students and enhance their learning experiences. Technology can engage students more deeply in learning content, activate their learning processes, and provide the social connections that are key to succeeding in college and beyond. To do this effectively, any use of technology suggested in this guide must be aligned with learning goals or objectives. “Technology is not just a tool,” said Panel Chair Nada Dabbagh. “Rather, technology has specific affordances that must be recognized to use it effectively for designing learning interactions. Aligning technology affordances with learning outcomes and instructional goals is paramount to successful learning designs.”

  • Pay attention to potential issues of accessibility.

The Internet is ubiquitous, but many households—particularly low-income households and those of recent immigrants and in rural communities—may not be able to afford or otherwise access digital communications. Course materials that rely heavily on Internet access may put these students at a disadvantage. “Colleges and universities making greater use of online education need to know who their students are and what access they have to technology,” said panelist Anthony Picciano. “This practice guide makes abundantly clear that colleges and universities should be careful not to be creating digital divides.”

Instructional designers must also ensure that learning materials on course websites and course/learning management systems can accommodate students who are visually and/or hearing impaired. “Technology can greatly enhance access to education both in terms of reaching a wide student population and overcoming location barriers and in terms of accommodating students with special needs,” said Dabbagh. “Any learning design should take into consideration the capabilities and limitations of technology in supporting a diverse and inclusive audience.”

  • Technology deployments may require significant investment and coordination.

Implementing any new intervention takes training and support from administrators and teaching and learning centers. That is especially true in an environment where resources are scarce. “In reviewing the studies for this practice guide,” said Picciano, “it became abundantly clear that the deployment of technology in our colleges and universities has evolved into a major administrative undertaking. Careful planning that is comprehensive, collaborative, and continuous is needed.”

“Hardware and software infrastructure, professional development, academic and student support services, and ongoing financial investment are testing the wherewithal of even the most seasoned administrators,” said Picciano. “Yet the dynamic and changing nature of technology demands that new strategies be constantly evaluated and modifications made as needed.”

These decisions are never easy. “Decisions need to be made,” said Sparrow, “about investment cost versus opportunity cost. Additionally, when a large investment in a technology has been made, it should not be without investment in faculty development, training, and support resources to ensure that faculty, staff, and students can take full advantage of it.”

  • Rigorous research is limited and more is needed.

Despite technology’s ubiquity in college settings, rigorous research on the effects of technological interventions on student outcomes is rather limited. “It’s problematic,” said Bishop, “that research in the instructional design/educational technology field has been so focused on things, such as technologies, theories, and processes, rather than on the problems we’re trying to solve with those things, such as developing critical thinking, enhancing knowledge transfer, and addressing individual differences. It turns out to be very difficult to cross-reference the instructional design/educational technology literature with the questions the broader field of educational research is trying to answer.”

More rigorous research is needed on new technologies and how best to support instructors and administrators in using them. “For experienced researchers as well as newcomers,” said Picciano, “technology in postsecondary teaching and learning is a fertile ground for further inquiry and investigation.”

Readers of this practice guide are encouraged to adapt the advice provided to the varied contexts in which they work. The five themes discussed above serve as a lens to help readers approach the guide and decide whether and how to implement some or all of the recommendations.

Download Using Technology to Support Postsecondary Student Learning from the What Works Clearinghouse website at https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/PracticeGuide/25.

 

How can we work together to promote achievement for all students?

Matthew Soldner, Commissioner of the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, delivered the remarks below at Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest’s February 27, 2019 Governing Board Meeting in Chicago, Illinois. The remarks have been edited for clarity and to remove references to specific attendees or projects.

Good evening, and thank you for inviting me to share a few thoughts this evening about the Institute of Education Sciences’ vision for the REL program. I will promise to keep them brief, because I know you want to hear from REL Midwest about the work they have planned for the upcoming year, and I know they want to hear from you about the planned work and how it can be designed to meet your needs and the needs of your stakeholders.

As you meet over the course of the next day, I’d ask that you keep one question in mind throughout: how can our work together, across the various partnerships that are represented in this room, work to promote achievement for all students. I want to spend a moment on a few of those words.

First, achievement. When I talk about achievement, I’m not referring to only test scores or grades. I’m talking about measures and indicators of development and success from early childhood through adulthood, including outcomes in early childhood education, early and middle grades, high school, and college and university. This also must include indicators of success as learners move to and through the workforce.

Second, when I say all students – or, perhaps more precisely, all learners – I mean it in the most inclusive terms. We are deeply committed to ensuring each student, each learner, is well-served by our systems of education – from pre-Kindergarten to adult education, and all levels in-between.  

So what must we, as a REL program, do to work toward that goal? I think most of us would agree that nothing changes for students if adults don’t begin to do things differently and, hopefully, better.

That means our work must be focused on action. The kind of action you tell us is most needed in your states, your districts, and your communities.

Some of you are probably saying: “But I thought this work was about RESEARCH? Doesn’t the ‘L’ in ‘REL’ imply that we are out to experiment, test, and discover? Not ACTION?”

The answer is, of course, yes: Research is core to the distinctiveness of the REL program. Research, and a reliance on evidence in classroom practice and policymaking is at the foundation of everything that we do. And yes, in all of our work, we hope to inspire among our partners a desire and capacity to better use data and evidence.

But it cannot end there. The research that we do together must be in service of the action – of the change – around which you have invited us into your work. It must be part of a larger, coherent effort to improve the achievement of all students. Research is a means to an end, but it is not the end this program is meant to achieve.

I would offer one word of caution. This is not just, or even mostly, about improving dissemination. It isn’t about a better tweet, a better infographic, or a better video. We cannot be in the business of just putting research in peoples’ hands and expecting change.

Instead, this is about being in active partnership with you. And putting that relationship to work so that what we know and what we are learning can support the policy, program, and practice goals you have set to support all students.

I do not believe this is a radical departure from how this community thinks about its work. But it may call us to do our work with a different kind of intentionality.

So my ask of you, my charge to you, is that as Governing Board members and stakeholders you consistently challenge us to leverage the research, evaluation, and technical assistance skills of the REL staff in this room in ways that make a real difference in the lives of the learners you serve. Thank you being good partners with us on this journey. As always, please feel free to reach out to me directly if you have thoughts about how we might do our work better.

Increasing Access to Education Research

by Erin Pollard, ERIC Project Officer

IES funds approximately $237 million of research a year in order to provide practitioners and policymakers with the information they need to improve education. But what good is that research if it sits behind a paywall and the people who need it the most can’t access it? That is the thought behind IES’s Public Access Policy. It requires all of our grantees and contractors to make the full text of any peer reviewed work that we funded freely available through ERIC within a year of publication.

Before the policy was adopted in 2011, the majority of the work funded by the National Center for Education Research and National Center for Special Education Research appeared in peer reviewed journals. These journals are largely subscription based; meaning only those who had access to a library with a subscription could access the articles. Given that journal subscriptions are frequently over $1,000 per journal per year and annual subscriptions for academic databases start at close to $10,000 per year, many smaller schools and districts simply cannot afford to purchase access to high quality research. Their teachers and administrators must rely on freely available resources.

IES wanted to change the model. We believe that because IES-supported research is publicly funded, the results should be publicly available. We have worked with publishers, editors, and grantees to find a way to make our policy mutually beneficial.

We are not alone in this effort. IES is part of a larger federal initiative to make most research findings publicly available. Federal agencies are coordinating to adopt similar policies all across the government to increase the availability of good science and to improve evidence-based decision making.

Since we adopted the policy 5 years ago we have been able to make more than 600 publications freely available in ERIC and will be able to release 250 more in the next year. This is just the beginning. We expect more and more work to become available each year. Because ERIC powers other search engines and academic databases with its metadata, we are disseminating these full text articles widely, wherever users are looking for their research. By giving teachers, administrators and policymakers access to high quality research, we are able to get our work into the hands of the people who can use it to build a brighter future for our Nation’s students.

Sharing strategies to increase research-based educational practices

By Cora Goldston, REL Midwest

Highlighted Resources

How can states, districts, and schools identify effective practices to address challenges and achieve their goals? Education research can point the way, but sometimes finding and accessing relevant research can be a frustrating and time-consuming process. And even when practitioners can find research, it can be difficult to determine a study’s rigor and the strength of research evidence supporting interventions.

Equipping practitioners to use research evidence

Through the Midwest Alliance to Improve Knowledge Utilization (MAIKU), the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest is partnering with practitioners to help states, districts, and schools use research to inform practice. The goal is to make it easier for educators to find research relevant to their priorities, assess the level of evidence that supports potential practices, and implement those practices that are based on strong evidence.

REL Midwest and MAIKU are supporting the use of research in education practice in several ways. For example, REL Midwest provided coaching sessions for the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) on understanding the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) tiers of evidence. In addition, REL Midwest created a crosswalk that shows how the ESSA evidence tiers align with ratings from research clearinghouses, such as the What Works Clearinghouse. In turn, ODE is using this information to help Ohio districts that are applying for Striving Readers grants. To receive the grants, districts must demonstrate that they plan to use research-based practices to improve student literacy. As a result of REL Midwest’s support, ODE has strengthened its capacity to help districts determine the level of evidence supporting certain practices and, thus, to submit stronger grant applications.

REL Midwest is providing similar support across the region. In Michigan, we are conducting coaching sessions for the state Department of Education to help agency leadership choose priorities from the state’s Top 10 in 10 plan, identify research-based practices that support those priorities, and collaborate to implement new state-level practices. In Wisconsin, REL Midwest hosted a training series for the Department of Public Instruction to increase the agency’s capacity to collect, analyze, and use data to adjust state-level policies and practices. And in Illinois, REL Midwest is holding a training series for the State Board of Education on research methods, data collection, and data analysis and how to use the findings to inform agency practices.

June webinar on increasing evidence use

MAIKU is also working with researchers to support evidence use in education practice. On June 19, 2018, REL Midwest and MAIKU hosted a webinar to discuss how researchers can share evidence with practitioners in useful and accessible ways.

The webinar featured a presentation by Alan J. Daly, Ph.D., of the University of California at San Diego, and Kara Finnigan, Ph.D., of the University of Rochester. Dr. Daly and Dr. Finnigan discussed how information-sharing networks are structured among school and district staff and the challenges for practitioners in accessing and using research-based practices.   

Building on this context, Dr. Daly and Dr. Finnigan shared insights about the most effective ways to maximize the reach of research. One of their key findings is that the pattern of people’s social ties makes a difference for sharing and using research-based practices. Finnigan and Daly noted that the set of relationships we have can increase access to research evidence if the right ties are present but can constrain access to resources when those ties are not present. The quality of relationships also matters; high levels of trust are essential for more in-depth exchanges of information. The takeaway: fostering both the quantity and quality of social relationships is important for sharing research evidence.  

During the webinar, Jaime Singer, senior technical assistance consultant at REL Midwest, also shared actionable strategies that researchers can use to support evidence use in practice, including training and coaching sessions, checklists, blog posts, and clearinghouses of effective practices.

The webinar included a panel discussion about REL Midwest’s ESSA evidence tiers coaching sessions and crosswalk for ODE. REL Midwest researcher Lyzz Davis, Ph.D., provided a researcher perspective on developing resources to meet ODE’s needs. Heather Boughton, Ph.D., and Melissa Weber-Mayrer, Ph.D., at ODE provided practitioner perspectives on how REL Midwest’s work has strengthened the agency’s capacity to help districts find and use evidence-based interventions.

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.

What Works in STEM Education: Resources for National STEM Day, 2018

Are you celebrating National STEM Day this November 8th by learning more about how to improve student achievement in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)? If so, the Institute of Education Sciences’ (IES’s) What Works Clearinghouse has great resources for educators who want information about the latest evidence-based practices in supporting learners of all ages.

  • Focused on math? If so, check out Improving Mathematical Problem Solving in Grades 4 Through 8. Based on 38 rigorous studies conducted over 20 years, this practice guide includes five recommendations that teachers, math coaches, and curriculum developers can use to improve students’ mathematical problem-solving skills. There’s strong evidence that assisting students in monitoring and reflecting on the problem-solving process and teaching students how to use visual representations (e.g., tables, graphs, and number lines) can improve achievement. Other practice guides focus on Teaching Math to Young Children and Teaching Strategies for Improving Algebra Knowledge in Middle and High School Students.

  • Don’t worry, we won’t leave science out! Encouraging Girls in Math and Science includes five evidence-based recommendations that both classroom teachers and other school personnel can use to encourage girls to choose career paths in math- and science-related fields. A handy 20-point checklist provides suggestions for how those recommendations can be incorporated into daily practice, such as “[teaching] students that working hard to learn new knowledge leads to improved performance” and “[connecting] mathematics and science activities to careers in ways that do not reinforce existing gender stereotypes of those careers.”

  • Looking for specific curricula or programs for encouraging success in STEM? If so, check out the What Works Clearinghouse’s Intervention Reports in Math and Science. Intervention reports are summaries of findings from high-quality research on a given educational program, practice, or policy. There are currently more than 200 intervention reports that include at least one math or science related outcome. (And nearly 600 in total!)

  • Maybe you just want to see the research we’ve reviewed? You can! The What Works Clearinghouse’s Reviews of Individual Studies Database includes nearly 11,000 citations across a wide range of topics, including STEM. Type in your preferred search term and you’re off—from algebra to zoology, we’ve got you covered!

We hope you’ll visit us on November 8th and learn more about evidence-based practices in STEM education. And with practice guides, intervention reports, and individual studies spanning topics from Early Childhood to Postsecondary education and everything in-between, we hope you’ll come back whenever you are looking for high-quality research to answer the question “what works in education!”

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.