Friday, November 14, 2014

The Best Evidence Encyclopedia

The phrase "research-based" is thrown around a lot, these days, but what does it really mean? And how can one be sure that educational programs and policies are soundly based on reliable research? Those without easy access to professional journals will find the Best Evidence Encyclopedia  to be an excellent resource for answering all manner of education questions.

You may be familiar with other resources for evaluating educational programs and policies. Our blog has featured posts about the What Works Clearinghouse, operated by the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education and Usable Knowledge, a new initiative from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The BEE is designed to be an especially accessible resource of this kind.

The Best Evidence Encyclopedia, or BEE, is a free site created and maintained by the Johns Hopkins University School of Education's Center for Data-Driven Reform in Education (CDDRE). The goal of the site is to provide teachers, principals, policy makers, and researchers with balanced, authentic information that will help them choose curricula and tools that are most likely to work in K-12 classrooms. The BEE, which is organized by both academic discipline and grade level, is easy to navigate. Users can also search for a specific term, or browse the sections on early childhood education and comprehensive school reform.

In addition to being valid, the information shared by the BEE is refreshingly easy to understand. CDDRE staff members write summaries of the studies that meet the BEE's strict criteria, then send them to the studies' authors for approval before they are posted on the site. Not only can users read the summaries for free, but they may also access the full texts of each article.

A strong background in upper-level statistics is not needed to make sense of the BEE's conclusions. Their program rating scale is simple and straightforward; programs and curricula are rated based on the overall strength of the evidence supporting their effects on student achievement. For example, programs with sufficiently large treatment groups and significant effect sizes are described as having "strong evidence of effectiveness." Programs rated as having "limited evidence of effectiveness" are ones for which no convincing studies demonstrating their merit have been published. It should be noted that this doesn't mean the programs are poor, only that no substantial research has yet shown that they work.

Want to stay in the know? Sign up for the BEE's bi-weekly electronic newsletter. The Best Evidence in Brief offers a quick round-up for current news in education research. It's an excellent resource for those who want to look behind the headlines to learn practical information about what works in schools.

Educators and others who are interested in sound teaching practices couldn't ask for a sounder, or more useful, resource.

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