• By Kevin Mount
  • Posted on Wednesday 12th December, 2007

The Bee all and end all of best evidence

If research evidence is to become the basis for policy and practice in education, there is a clear need for reliable, educator-friendly information sources. A number of websites have already begun to offer educators reviews of research. In Britain London University's Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Co-ordinating Centre (EPPI) is one such provider; a US equivalent is the What Works Clearing House.Alongside them, an ambitious review service is being provided by the Best-Evidence Encyclopedia (BEE), which originated at Johns Hopkins University in 2005 and now, with the migration of Robert Slavin and his team to York, has a UK base at the Institute for Effective Education.The BEE is notable for providing concise, easily interpreted tables that encapsulate the strength of evidence supporting various programs. The summaries are backed up with a detailed account of the research process and findings, and these fuller reports are beginning to be published in research journals. Because BEE reviewers use a consistent set of procedures and metrics and work to the highest research standards, readers should be able to make reliable head-to-head comparisons within and across the content. Reviews of research on mathematics and reading programs, for example, include textbooks, ICT, and professional development strategies, so educators can us the encyclopedia to identify the approaches most likely to increase pupil achievement.To complete the picture, the BEE includes educators’ summaries and links to other reviews that meet similarly exacting standards, and content is updated as additional research becomes available. This means that a BEE review can claim to be a living document; changing as and when new evidence is produced.As it stands, the encyclopedia contains reviews of primary and secondary mathematics, secondary reading, primary and secondary comprehensive school reforms, ICT programmes,and more. Researchers on both sides of the Atlantic are working on primary school reading programs, and will soon take on literature, science, and other subjects, as well as early childhood education. In time, topics such as dropout prevention, classroom management, programmes for children with special needs, and other topics will also be reviewed. To qualify for inclusion, studies must compare programs to control groups over a period of at least 12 weeks. Experimental and control groups must be no more than ? standard deviation apart at pre-test, and any pre-test differences must be controlled for. Measures must be fair to all groups, not inherent to the experimental treatment. In determining overall program ratings, the encyclopedia attaches particular importance to studies that use random assignment to conditions and are based on large sample sizes. To meet the needs of educators, not just the researcher community, artificial laboratory studies are excluded and large, long-term studies are given high status. In years to come the BEE should grow in coverage and usage, to provide educators and policy makers with the scientifically valid but easily accessible information crucial to evidence-based reform.

Back to Archives