Imagine you need a life-saving surgery, and your surgeon has a choice between two procedures to perform. One has a 19% mortality rate, and another has a 10% mortality rate. Your surgeon explains that he is choosing the first procedure because it is easier to do, he is trained in it, and he simply likes it better than the other procedure. Would you put your life in this surgeon’s hands?
We all trust the value of evidence in medicine. So, why don’t we demand evidence-based methods when it comes to education? The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) places strong emphasis on evidence-based practice. The phrase appears 61 times in the law, and many ESSA funding streams are only available for activities that are supported by research. In this blog, we’ll discuss what evidence-based practice means and why it matters, and we’ll review the ESSA’s four tiers of evidence.
What does evidence-based practice mean?
Evidence-based practice means an activity, strategy, or intervention that:
Why does it matter?
A recent policy brief by Chiefs for Change, an education advocacy group, explained the importance of evidence-based practices this way:
We all want our schools and districts to employ resources that will help students succeed. By using rigorous and relevant evidence and assessing the local capacity to implement interventions (e.g., funding, staff, staff skills, stakeholder support), schools are more likely to implement interventions successfully.
What are the ESSA's four tiers of evidence?
ESSA tiers research across four standards that embody varying degrees of methodological rigor, with Tier 1 representing the strongest and Tier 4 the weakest levels of research. ESSA lays out a number of funding streams that are only available if they are used to support activities that have research support. Here are the four categories, with a brief description of each:
Tier 1 – STRONG At least one well designed/well implemented experimental study (i.e., randomized).
Tier 2 – MODERATE At least one well designed/well implemented quasi-experimental study (i.e., matched).
Tier 3 – PROMISING At least one well designed/well implemented correlational study with statistical controls for selection bias.
Tier 4 – UNDER EVALUATION Demonstrates rationale based on high-quality research or positive evaluation that such activity, strategy, or representation is likely to improve student outcomes (i.e., logic model).
For an intervention or activity to be classified within the first three tiers, it must be supported by research that demonstrates a statistically significant effect on improving student outcomes or other relevant outcomes. These three tiers are grouped under the Category 1 evidence level.
Tier 4 falls under Category 2. This category comprises the weakest levels of research and should be used rarely. It is designed for ideas that hold promise but do not yet have an evidence base qualifying for the top three tiers. To use Tier 4 methods effectively, detailed procedures must be established before beginning to use the strategy, program or intervention.
Want to learn more about evidence-based research?
There’s much more to research than defining its category. To better understand how to qualify research-and find out if chocolate really leads to weight loss-read our next blog, 5 Examples of Evidence-Based Research for Academic Programs.