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Fidelity of Program and Practice
Let me briefly address the issue of fidelity to a program or practice, and that term is thrown out there quite a bit. I spend most of my time with my nose in the research, and here’s my reading about all that: although you can’t take a program ... first, make a distinction, programs verses Instructional practices. Program’s a big model, how we are going to teach reading here, how we are going to teach mathematics and what materials we are going to use in pulling kids out. Practices are individual things teachers do in their classroom, and I have always focused on that and not on programs. They mean very, very different things, so let’s talk about fidelity relative to a program.
You can build a case that you got to keep fidelity to a program for it to have its anticipated effect, kind of, if you look at the studies on the Conference of School Reform models that have been out for a number of years, what you find is that sometimes it takes a long time for them to have their highest effect. And if you look at the studies in those long term sites, what you find is that they probably made adaptations that, number one, allowed them to keep the program and, number two, allowed the programs to have the effect they did. Actually, people like Susan Lothorslly, years ago, Gene Hall—when they developed what’s called the CBAM Model, Concerns-Based Adoption Model—actually found a research-based model where they found the highest level of implementation is when people have adapted it to their specific situation. So I say, even at the program level, although there’s a certain level of fidelity you have to keep to keep a program intact, even with a programs fidelity doesn’t mean a lock step following of exactly the way you learned it the first time. You have to make adaptations along the way; you can double that for instructional practices. What we know about whatever the sterns instructional strategy you’re looking at is that the research indicates that it does not work in all situations.
As I have mentioned many times, when I talk about research-based strategies, no matter what the area, if you line up the research on any area, note-taking, summarizing, similarities and differences, classroom management strategies ... line them all up, and you will find that anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of the studies for that particular strategy had negative effects ... that when they try to with one group and then another, the group where they didn’t try the strategy, they outperformed the group that did. Now to me what that means is, and I know this from working with teachers, is that when they make adaptations in the strategies for their particular context or situation, that’s when it actually works. So for me, if fidelity, that’s certainly obviously something we should keep in our hip pocket, but fidelity doesn’t mean a rigid following of the steps. That if you have to make, but its different for programs versus practices, programs you have to do that little more then with practices. Practices, for sure, teachers should be making adaptations always with an eye towards ... is this enhancing student achievement? So you can’t just do the strategy ... you have to monitor, is this enhancing student achievement? We actually built this into our protocol, and if it’s working, keep doing it. And if it’s not working, what changes do I have to make for this particular class, or these particular students, or this particular unit to make it work better?