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Every Student Succeeds Act Shifting Educational Gears: Evidence Based Practice Preeminent

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Shifting GearsThere is a growing body of opinion and prognostication focused on the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Seemingly everyone has a position to propose. Before adding my 2¢ regarding ESSA’s shifting gears, I decided to read the act and then write about how I understood it in relation to No Child Left Behind (NCLB).No doubt, the document is much easier to manage in volume: ESSA is only 391-page document in comparison to NCLB’s hefty 670 pages. I waded through NCLB jargon during the time of my dissertation and so I felt bolstered to take on the task.

I didn’t get far into the document before I noticed significant differences in the tone and diction between the documents. Indeed, both are legalistically formal, but the language of ESSA occasional tends to assuage distance between policy and people. For instance, ESSA strikes NCLB’s designation of “limited English proficient children” and supplants the term, “English learners” (§1177-66, 2015). Earlier in the document, language is softened in reference to low achieving schools, “by striking ‘school improvement, corrective action, and restructuring…’ and inserting ‘comprehensive support and improvement activities or targeted support….'” (§1177-60).

Another striking difference is the de-emphasis in ESSA  of “scientifically-based research” (SBR) from that of NCLB. When NCLB first became policy, there was great uproar over its more than 100 references to “scientifically-based research” (SBR). The document carefully defined the term: “research that involves the application of rigorous, systematic, and objective procedures to obtain reliable and valid knowledge relevant to education activities and programs and includes research that and employs systematic, empirical methods that draw on observation or experiment” plus five additional descriptive criteria (§115-164-5, 2002). Indeed, ESSA uses the word research but the context is typically related to research as a study or practice related to those who are trained and/or employed in research facilities, not as prerequisite for instructional decisions.

In reading ESSA, I was not only surprised by the limited references to the SBR–only two–but also by the context in which the two references were used: the first in relation to English Learners, “‘by striking major findings of scientifically based research’…and inserting ‘findings of the most recent evaluation…'” (§1177-162, 2015); and the second in reference to educational opportunities for Indian children and youth, “by striking ‘information demonstrating that the proposed program…is a scientifically based research program’ and inserting ‘information demonstrating the proposed program is an evidence-based program'” (§1177-254). ESSA does give a nod to scientifically based reading research (§1177-378), defining it much like NCLB defined general SBR.

Rather than SBR, Every Student Succeeds holds in preeminence evidence-based practices, activities, interventions, strategies, or programs. Evidence-based as a term is used on fifty separate pages with the phrase appearing as many as three times on a single page. Just as NCLB took care to define scientifically-based research, ESSA carefully defines EBP:

…an activity, strategy, or intervention that—(i) demonstrates a statistically significant effect on improving student outcomes or other relevant out-comes based on—(I) strong evidence from at least 1 well-designed and well-implemented experimental study; (II) moderate evidence from at least 1 well-designed and well-implemented quasi-experimental study; or  (III) promising evidence from at least 1 well-designed and well-implemented correlational study with statistical controls for selection bias; or (ii)(I) demonstrates a rationale based on high-quality research findings or positive evaluation that such activity, strategy, or intervention is likely to improve student outcomes or other relevant outcomes; and (II) includes ongoing efforts to examine the effects of such activity, strategy, or intervention (§1177-290, 2015).

I’m not making any long-term predictions here. The policies do not go into effect until August 1, 2016. But as a lifelong learner and lover of language, I am intrigued by the nuances of language and curious to see how they are read by others. What are your thoughts? How do you see these and other changes affecting attitudes and positions towards our profession?

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