What Does It Take for Instruction to Be “Evidence Based”?

By David Chard, PhD
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Q

I’ve read that my child’s instruction should be “evidence based.” But what’s the difference between that and some of the teaching approaches I’ve seen that claim that they’re backed by evidence?

A

This is a great question. Let me start by saying that the best teaching approaches are evidence based. Over the past several years, however, there have been more and more people making broad claims about particular instructional approaches being based on evidence. So, as is the case with many good questions, the answer to yours isn’t simple.

First, there can be confusion about what evidence means. Some people might think of it as “clinical” evidence. This is when teachers see that a strategy or approach they’re using with a student or group of students is having positive results.

But the term evidence based refers to something else. An evidence base develops when researchers use specific methods to study an instructional approach to see if it works on a large scale. That reduces the risk of making false judgments about how successful an approach is. This evidence is backed by research, and it is much more trustworthy.

Unlike clinical evidence, research evidence requires the following:

  • Using credible measures of student performance

  • Including a large and representative sample of students

  • Ruling out other explanations for changes in student outcomes

  • Involving the peer review process to judge the quality of the research

Clinical evidence isn’t without value. If a teacher is having success with an approach, that’s positive for his student or students.

But when teachers see repeated success with many students over many years, they sometimes decide to share and promote their approach. They may do that online or at teacher conferences, using their clinical evidence as proof of success.

Clinical evidence is no substitute for evidence that is based on research, however. That’s because as individuals, we can make errors in judgment. Sometimes we can judge that a practice worked, when it really didn’t. Or we may determine that it wasn’t effective, when in fact it was.

The good news is there are more and more teaching approaches that are evidence based. They cover core areas of academics, social behavior and assessment.

You might want to ask your teacher about the strategies and instructional approaches he uses. And make sure to look into the claims of success of approaches you see online. If these products are not evidence based, they may not be as successful as they claim to be.


Want to learn more about various teaching strategies? Find out how multisensory instruction helps kids with learning and thinking differences. Read about Universal Design for Learning. And explore conversation starters for discussing teaching approaches with your child’s teacher.

About the Author

About the Author

David Chard, PhD 

is the president of Wheelock College in Boston and chairman of the Professional Advisory Board of NCLD.

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