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Distinguishing Evidence from Research
The term “research-based” is used quite a bit in K-12 education right now. Here’s basically what that means: that someone has looked at the research and said, “This particular strategy has research behind it, therefore we should use it in our classroom, or we should use it in our school, we should use it in our district.” “Evidence-based” is something above and beyond that. “Evidence-based” means that teachers in your school or your district as a whole have said, “Well, let’s gather our own information about how well these strategies work.” What we know is that research is always situated—a study was done in a particular context. It doesn’t mean that the strategy as done in that particular context works perfectly in your context as a classroom teacher, or your school, or your district. It has to be tried in your particular context. Now that means gathering evidence. That means gathering information. It could be quite informal. It could just be teachers sitting down and talking about how well it worked for them. It could also be more formal. For example, you can gather evidence as to how well a teacher was using a strategy and its relationship to student achievement. Of course, then you have to gather information about student achievement—how well they did on a test that was designed specifically for the content that was being taught during a given lesson. That evidence could even be asking students, “How well do you think you did on this lesson?” or, “How much did you learn?” By the way, that simple question right there, research indicates it’s one of the strongest correlates with student achievement. Just asking students what they know is highly correlated with what they actually know. That was a study by John Hattie when he looked at about 138 variables and rank-ordered them in terms of their relationship/correlation with student achievement. I believe that was the #1 variable, asking students what they know is pretty decent, if they feel they can answer it anonymously in an unthreatening fashion.
There’s a lot of ways of gathering information about how teachers are doing and how students are doing, but that’s a lot of data and that has to be put together in a way where you can correlate the data, match this up with this, and charts and graphs. Of course, that takes technology. So when I saw the iObservation platform, and the ability to do that and how easy it is to do—gather information about teachers and how they’re using strategies, and then student achievement—I thought, “Ok, this does it. We can actually do this right now.” By hand, it would be practically impossible, and when I mean “practical,” I mean in a practical sense it would be impossible to gather that data on teachers and students and then use it. Boy, now it’s so easy to gather it! There’s so many ways of gathering that information, and then once it’s in the system you can look at that from individual teachers, to classes, to grade levels, to the different populations. I think we’re kind of at a breakthrough period here. Technology is finally giving us the tools that allow teachers and supervisor administrators to have those conversations that are geared toward improving teacher pedagogical skill and, ultimately, student achievement.
DEBORAH PICKERING: 3:20
One of the things I’ve been doing for 20 years is taking research to the field, taking research to teachers. And they embrace it. When you get resistance from teachers is when they feel like that you’re coming to tell them what to do. What we do, Marzano Research Lab and everyone I know who is doing consulting, we go to teachers and to principals and administrators, and say, “We’re not here to tell you what to do, but we are here to tell you what has a high probability of working. No guarantees, but a high probability of working.” And that’s really fun, to say, “This is how it works, this is when it works. Here’s the probability it’s going to work, it’s worth your time.” What has to happen after that is the most important thing. So that’s “research-based,” and I love that schools embrace “research-based.”
Now they have to move to “evidence-based.” “Evidence-based” means that now the stakeholders, and the school and district have to go and see if it works in their classrooms. They collect evidence. They collect student work. They interview students. They observe and videotape classrooms. They use all of that evidence to determine if these research-based strategies are actually working here, and use evidence to do that. The best professional development experiences I’ve had over twenty years is when, after going into the classroom and bringing evidence back to the table, teachers then interact about what worked and didn’t work. Equally important. What worked, that’s kind of cool, I’ll keep doing that. Why didn’t it work? What didn’t work? Where it worked, but not with these students. Those conversations, informed by evidence, is the best professional development I’ve ever seen. So moving from “research-based” to “evidence-based,” which means it lives in your district, is I think the most important movement, and a platform like this I think will help us get there.