Evidence Based Practice in Special Education

In April 2009, articles in a Special Issue of  the journal Exceptional Children applied recently developed standards for evidence-based practices developed specifically for special education, by special education researchers, to four different instructional techniques.

Students with disabilities need to be taught using the most effective instructional practices to meet their potentials. But before special educators can use effective practices to optimize student outcomes, researchers must reliably identify which practices are, in fact, the most effective. To address this need, recent reforms in education and other fields (e.g., medicine) have focused increasingly on the identification of evidence-based practice. Evidence-based practices must be supported by research, but not just any research. To determine which practices really work (i.e., evidence-based practices) different fields have developed their own standards regarding the quantity, quality, research design, and magnitude of effect for supporting studies. The following special issue articles are available online.

Repeated Reading Interventions for Students With Learning Disabilities: Status of the Evidence
David J. Chard, Leanne R. Ketterlin-Geller, Scott K. Baker, Christian Doabler, and Chanisa Apichatabutra

ABSTRACT: For students with or at risk for learning disabilities, developing fluency with reading connected texts remains a formidable challenge. In response, teachers often use repeated reading practices designed to provide students with multiple exposures to the same words. This study examined research focused on determining the efficacy of repeated reading approaches for improving reading fluency for students with or at risk for learning disabilities. Studies employed experimental/quasi-experimental and single-subject research designs. Results suggest that repeated reading is not supported by rigorous research as defined by the quality indicators used and, therefore, is not an evidence-based practice based on those criteria for students with and at risk for learning disabilities. Implications for future research and for practice are discussed.

Evaluating the Evidence Base for Cognitive Strategy Instruction and Mathematical Problem Solving
Marjorie Montague and Samantha Dietz

ABSTRACT: This review considers both the content and methodologies of 5 single-subject and 2 group experimental design studies investigating the effects of cognitive strategy instruction on the mathematical problem solving of students with disabilities, using quality indicators proposed by Horner et al. (2005) and Gersten et al. (2005). Findings indicated that the research base of both single-subject and group experimental studies did not meet the methodological criteria to support cognitive strategy instruction as an evidence-based practice for improving mathematical problem solving of students with disabilities. The shortcomings identified in the empirical literature supporting cognitive strategy instruction, however, can be addressed in future intervention studies bearing in mind the quality indicators and standards for determining evidence-based practices.
Teaching Writing to At-Risk Students: The Quality of Evidence for Self-Regulated  Strategy Development
Scott K. Baker, David J. Chard, Leanne R. Ketterlin-Geller, Chanisa Apichatabutra, and Christian Doabler

ABSTRACT: This study evaluates the quality of the research and evidence base for a writing intervention called Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD; Graham & Harris, 1989; Harris & Graham, 1996) for students with and at risk for learning disabilities, using criteria for group research studies suggested by Gersten et al. (2005) and single-subject research studies suggested by Horner et al. (2005). Five experimental and quasi-experimental studies and 16 single-subject studies investigating SRSD were analyzed on numerous methodological dimensions. Both the group design and single-subject studies also met proposed standards for an evidence-based practice. The potential value of analyzing approaches and interventions using the proposed quality indicators and standards for evidence-based practices is discussed, as are implications for research and practice

An Examination of the Evidence Base for Function-Based Interventions for Students With Emotional and/or Behavioral Disorders Attending Middle and High Schools
Kathleen Lynne Lane, Jemma Robertson Kalberg, and Jenna Courtney Shepcaro

ABSTRACT: The authors field-tested the core quality indicators and standards for evidence-based practices for single-case design studies developed by Horner and colleagues (2005) by applying them to the literature exploring functional assessment-based interventions conducted with secondary-age students with emotional and/or behavioral disorders (EBD). First, we evaluated this knowledge base by applying the indicators to determine if the studies identified (n = 12) were of acceptable methodological quality. Second, we analyzed studies meeting the recommended quality indicators to determine whether function-based interventions with students with EBD might be considered an evidence-based practice. Results ᆲreveal that only 1 study addressed all proposed quality indicators, suggesting that function-based interventions are not yet an evidence-based practice for this population per these indicators and standards. Limitations and recommendations are posed.

Using Time Delay to Teach Literacy to Students With Severe Developmental Disabilities
Diane Browder, Lynn Ahlgrim-Delzell, Fred Spooner, Pamela J. Mims, and Joshua N. Baker

ABSTRACT: A review of the literature was conducted for articles published between 1975 and 2007 on the application of time delay as an instructional procedure to teach word and picture recognition to students with severe developmental disabilities in an effort to evaluate time delay as an evidence-based practice. A total of 30 experiments were analyzed using quality indicators for single-subject design research. In general, we found that time delay was an evidence-based practice for teaching picture and sight word recognition supported by standards for evidence-based practice proposed by Horner et al. (2005). We discuss lessons learned in summarizing a body of literature to define an evidence-based practice and suggestions for better defining the practice.

Determining Evidence-Based Practices in Special Education
Bryan G. Cook, Melody Tankersley, and Timothy J. Landrum

ABSTRACT: Determining evidence-based practices is a complicated enterprise that requires analyzing the methodological quality and magnitude of the available research supporting specific practices. This article reviews criteria and procedures for identifying what works in the fields of clinical psychology, school psychology, and general education; and it compares these systems with proposed guidelines for determining evidence-based practices in special education. The authors then summarize and analyze the approaches and findings of the 5 reviews presented in this issue. In these reviews, prominent special education scholars applied the proposed quality indicators for high-quality research and standards for evidence-based practice to bodies of empirical literature. The article concludes by synthesizing these scholarsメ preliminary recommendations for refining the proposed quality indicators and standards for evidence-based practices in special education, as well as the process for applying them.