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Evidence Matters: Facts and Findings in the Pursuit of Effectiveness

Scroll through the latest hot topics in education research, and it is likely that you will find most experts recommending the utilization of “evidence-based” practices. A frequently-used adjective in the field of education reform, it is a term that, on the surface, seems self-explanatory. However, when one digs deeper, it becomes clear that disagreements and misconceptions as to the meaning of this term persist.

According to the Glossary of Education Reform, the term refers to “any concept or strategy that is derived from or informed by objective evidence.” As one might expect, determining what constitutes “objective evidence” can sometimes present a challenge. However, as debates about the most effective instructional practices and materials continue to churn, it is imperative that researchers and policymakers maintain a laser focus on what the data are telling us.

While data may come in a variety of forms and may be derived from different contexts, the broader scientific community agrees that evidence must be gathered from legitimate external sources (such as scientific literature) and/or from data or observations collected in a systematic manner. Just as we expect those in the medical community to make treatment recommendations based on evidence, it is also important for school districts to do the same as they examine and refine their approaches to instruction.

In future posts, we will further examine some noteworthy instances of evidence informing practice, as well as some examples of evidence used out of context.

Because, as Davide Hume reminds us, “A wise man proportions his belief to evidence.”

Kelly Gregory is the Riley Institute’s Director for Public Education Partnerships and Projects and previously taught for 11 years in South Carolina public schools. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a master’s degree in Special Education. She also holds a National Board certification as an Exceptional Needs Specialist. She can be reached at