Conducting Gold-standard Education Research
Researchers at SEDL and the University of Wisconsin–Madison are conducting a study of two curricula, SRA Imagine It! Today’s Open Court reading program and Everyday Mathematics®, to determine the impact of the programs on teacher practices and student achievement. Both programs are widely used and have been found to have positive—or “potentially positive”—impacts on student achievement. However, most of the studies did not meet the standards for high-quality evidence set by the What Works Clearinghouse or used small-scale, quasi-experimental designs. SEDL’s study uses experimental methods in a large sample of schools, which will provide important evidence about the effectiveness of these programs.
A challenge in bringing evidence to practice in education is that there often isn’t enough high-quality evidence available to support a specific curriculum or practice. Schools and districts are often hesitant to participate in research, especially in large randomized controlled trials like this one. This year, we recruited the final set of schools—25 for the Open Court study and 24 for Everyday Mathematics®. SEDL’s research team used this challenge as an opportunity to build mutually beneficial and ongoing relationships with districts and schools as part of our recruitment and site development efforts.
Initially, we embraced the traditional recruitment approach of offering free materials and professional development. We highlighted the benefits of research for education. We thought schools would be eager to join a study offering free research-supported materials. We created materials to highlight the benefits of joining the study, the free resources, and the evidence for each program to give to eligible districts.
We encountered a different decision-making framework within each district. We discovered that districts were interested in how they could use the study to achieve their goals, such as complying with the Common Core State Standards and alleviating the burden of the study on their teachers. We had to refocus our efforts to determine each district’s needs and how to complement their goals without compromising our research design. The result is that we now have 48 schools participating in each study across eight states, as well as an understanding of each school’s needs and how to support and sustain their involvement in the study. SEDL’s ability to build meaningful relationships with district and school staff while adhering to the study design has been a key to this success.