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1.2: Legal Mandates of Research-Based Practices

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    Utilization of evidence-based practices is more than just lip service by researchers seeking to make a quick buck. Indeed, evidence-based practices have been called for, investigated, and disseminated in the field of education through initiatives initially brought forth to combat the underachievement of readers across the country. Much of this was spurred by a report undertaken by the National Reading Panel, a group of experts in literacy from across the country, in 2000 (National Institute of Child Health & Human Development [NICH], 2000). The assessment by the panel was that too often many struggling readers were simply not taught to read utilizing validated approaches. In turn, the United States Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) which, among other important issues, mandated the use of research-based practices by teachers to improve the literacy of struggling readers. To identify, validate, and disseminate these practices, the United States Department of Education created the Institute for Education Sciences (IES) under the Education Sciences Reform Act of 2002, which is primarily tasked with disseminating grant monies to researchers, and disseminating information about practices to practitioners through its website the What-Works-Clearinghouse (WWC). Currently, the WWC houses information about a wide variety of intervention practices across disciplines including: reading, writing, mathematics, science, behavioral interventions, and social skills training (WWC, n.d.). When the NCLB was reauthorized, it was renamed the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA), in many respects to distance itself from the negative connotations of the previous act. The ESSA uses the term evidence-based practices thusly:

    Except as provided in subparagraph (B), the term ‘evidence-based’, when used with respect to a State, local educational agency, or school activity, means an activity, strategy, or intervention that—

    1. demonstrates a statistically significant effect on improving student outcomes or other relevant outcomes 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-implmented quasi-experimental study; or

      (III) promising evidence from at least 1 well designed and wellimplemented correlational study with statistical controls for selection bias;


    2. (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.

    It should be noted that compliance with the evidence-based practice standards mandate applies only to those state education agencies (SEA) that have agreed to receive federal funding under the act. States are not, and have never been, required to comply with either the NCLB or the new ESSA standards. The requirements (e.g., highly qualified teachers, reading achievement standards, state assessments) imposed on states are only imposed if the states agree in exchange for receiving federal funds.

    A second federal law which requires utilization of evidence-based practices specifically for students with disabilities is the IDEA. Under the IDEA, all special education and related services provided to a student with a disability, must be based on peer-reviewed research to the extent practical (20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(1)(A)(i)(IV)). Guidance from the Department of Education further clarified that:

    States, school districts, and school personnel must, therefore, select and use methods that research has shown to be effective, to the extent that methods based on PRR are available. This does not mean that the service with the greatest body of research is the service necessarily required for a child to receive FAPE. Likewise, there is nothing in the act to suggest that the failure of a public agency to provide services based on PRR would automatically result in a denial of FAPE. The final decision about the special education and related services, and supplementary aids and services that are to be provided to a child must be made by the child’s IEP Team based on the child’s individual needs. (USDOE, 2006, pp. 46663–46664)

    The term peer-reviewed research is a little bit more ambiguous, and is perhaps intended to be that way owing to few practices enjoying a wide research base in special-education. In addition, the phrase, “to the extent practicable” means that the service is within the scope and means of the school district. Though, if it is determined that the practice is not feasible (e.g., would unreasonably deplete funds), it allowed the school district an “out”. Yell, Katsiyannis, Losinski, and Marshall (2015) point out that another stipulation in the law is that schools are not bound to use the practice with the largest research-base, only that the practices that they use are based in research. Table 1 provides a listing of resources to check on the evidence of specific practices.

    This page titled 1.2: Legal Mandates of Research-Based Practices is shared under a CC BY-ND license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Mickey Losinski (New Prairie Press/Kansas State University Libraries) .

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