U. S. Department of Education broadens definition of “gold standard” research

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) is the research division of the U. S. Department of Education. For nearly a decade, IES has held that the gold standard – the best possible approach – for education research is a research design called a randomized control experiment. Such research designs traditionally have been very difficult to carry out in ‘real world’ school settings for a number of reasons – researchers usually cannot preclude students or teachers from switching classes or leaving schools, parents may not consent to their students participating in a study, school districts may not approve an experimental research design because they want all students or teachers to receive the treatment or intervention being investigated… The list goes on and on. IES, however, has changed its stance somewhat.

Education Week reports:

For the first time since its inception, the U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse is broadening its definition of “gold standard” research to include nonexperimental designs.

As part of the Institute of Education Sciences’ push to make research more relevant to educators, the clearinghouse has devised standards by which it can consider two new methods for rigorous research. In addition to the randomized, controlled trials now considered the gold standard, education researchers are now able to use regression-discontinuity, a method that uses a cutoff point rather than random assignment to form comparison groups, and single-case studies in certain situations. In clearinghouse reviews, studies that adhere to the new standards are now considered, along with randomized, controlled trials, to result in the “strongest evidence” to guide educators and policymakers.


The IES has posted the Standards for Regression-Discontinuity Designs on their Web side here (PDF); the equivalent document for single-case design is posted here (PDF).


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