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Institute of Education Sciences

RCT-YES: Supporting a Culture of Research Use in Education

By Ruth Curran Neild, Delegated Director, IES

The mission of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), at its core, is to create a culture in which independent, rigorous research and statistics are used to improve education. But sometimes research is seen by practitioners and policymakers as something that is done for them or to them, but not by them. And that’s something we’re hoping to change.

IES is always looking for new ways to involve educators in producing and learning about high-quality, useful research. We believe that if state and school district staff see themselves as full participants in scientific investigation, they will be more likely to make research a part of their routine practice. Simply put, we want to make it easier for educators to learn what works in their context and to contribute to the general knowledge of effective practices in education.    

That’s why we’re so pleased to add the RCT-YESTM software to the IES-funded toolkit of free, user-friendly resources for conducting research. Peter Schochet of Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. led the development of the software, as part of a contract with IES held by Decision Information Resources, Inc.

RCT-YES has a straightforward interface that allows the user to specify the analyses for data from a randomized controlled trial (RCT) or a quasi-experiment. Definitions and tips in the software help guide the user and accompanying documentation includes a mini-course on RCTs. When the user enters information about the data set and study design, RCT-YES produces a program to run the specified analyses (in either R or Stata) and provide a set of formatted tables.

The target users are those who have a basic knowledge of statistics and research design but do not have advanced training in conducting or analyzing data from impact studies. But we expect that even experienced researchers will like the simplicity and convenience of RCT-YES and benefit from some of its novel features, such as how it reports results.

When used properly, RCT-YES provides all of the statistics needed by the What Works ClearinghouseTM (WWC) to conduct a study review.  This is an important feature because the WWC often needs to contact authors—even experienced ones—to obtain additional statistics to make a determination of study quality.  RCT-YES could help advance the field by increasing the completeness of study reports.

Another unique feature of the software is that it defaults to practices recommended by IES’ National Center for Education Statistics for the protection of personally identifiable information. For example, the program suppresses reporting on small-size subgroups.

While the user sees only the simplicity of the interface, the underlying estimation methods and code required painstaking and sophisticated work.  RCT-YES relies on design-based estimation methods, and the development, articulation, peer review, and publication of this approach in the context of RCT-YES was the first careful step. Design-based methods make fewer assumptions about the statistical model than methods traditionally used in education (such as hierarchical linear modeling), making this approach especially appropriate for software designed with educators in mind.

The software is available for download from the RCT-YES website, where you can also find support videos, documentation, a user guide, and links to other helpful resources. The videos below, which are also hosted on the RCT-YES website, give a quick overview of the software.

There are many other ways that IES fosters a culture of research use in education. For instance, our 10 Regional Educational Laboratories (RELs) have research alliances that work with states and districts to develop research agendas. The RELs also host events to share best practices for putting research into action, such as the year-long series of webinars and training sessions on building, implementing, and effectively using Early Warning Systems to reduce dropping out.

IES also offers grants to states and districts to do quick evaluations of programs and policies that have been implemented in their schools. The low-cost, short-duration evaluations not only help the grantees discover what is working, but can help others who might use the same program or implement a similar policy. (We’ll announce the first round of grant recipients in the coming weeks).

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