Academic journal article Exceptional Children

What Does It Take to Scale Up and Sustain Evidence-Based Practices?

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

What Does It Take to Scale Up and Sustain Evidence-Based Practices?

Article excerpt

If you want to understand something try to change it, and if you want to change something try to understand it.

--Corte, Greer, and Verschaffel (as cited in Cobb & Smith, 2008, p. 18)

To effect the widespread adoption of evidence-based practices (EBPs), change is unlikely to occur one teacher--or even one school--at a time. Rather, researchers must strategically and systematically scale up implementation of EBPs in collaboration with district partners. It no longer makes sense for researchers to gather with one another to identify what they think is an important problem, write a research proposal, obtain funding to support their research, find schools and identify teachers to participate in their study, and conduct their research without substantial collaboration with the educators and leaders in their local school districts. To scale up and sustain the use of EBPs, researchers must work closely with their school district partners, not as an afterthought, but early in the process. For innovations to take hold in a district, they must meet the district's needs and be responsive to local contextual factors. As Cobb and Smith (2008) advise, researchers should view "teachers' instructional practices as situated in the institutional settings of the schools and districts in which they work" (p. 1).


Scaling up generally refers to the process by which researchers and educators initially implement interventions on a small scale, validate them, and then implement them more widely in real-world conditions (Odom, 2009). Scaling up, as described by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) in previous requests for applications (RFAs; most recently, 2011) focused on the process of expanding the number of schools and/or districts using an intervention and holding everything else constant while testing the effectiveness of the intervention. Perhaps because the complexities of scaling up are becoming increasingly apparent to educational researchers, the 2012 IES RFA expanded its parameters for scaling-up research to include a focus on "understanding the organizational conditions needed to support the intervention" and "determining the effects of selected moderators of the intervention" (p. 58).

In addition to evaluating the effectiveness of an intervention, researchers studying scale-up efforts commonly consider what it takes to expand and sustain an intervention in real-world settings (Fixsen & Blase , 2009). Coburn (2003) indicated that scaling up requires four components: depth, sustainability, spread, and a shift in ownership. To be successful, scaled-up reforms must bring about deep and lasting change that goes beyond surface structures or procedures (Coburn, 2003). This transformation is consequential and sustainable over time, exists after leaders in the original schools or districts leave, and should spread to additional schools. Coburn noted that sustainability might be the most significant challenge to scaling up. Typically, after researchers depart and funding has ended, implementation wanes (Vaughn, Klingner, & Hughes, 2000). Even schools that have been able to implement reforms successfully find that sustaining them is difficult when the schools confront competing priorities, changing demands, and teacher and administrator turnover. Thus, scaling up must involve more than the spread of the surface-level aspects of a new ap proach, such as the routines, activities, and materials associated with it. Scaling up also requires the proliferation of the beliefs, norms, and principles underlying the approach. Finally, Coburn's definition emphasizes that to be truly "at scale," ownership of the practice must shift so that others no longer perceive it to be an externally driven initiative that outsiders control; but it instead becomes an internally managed effort, maintained by the districts, schools, and teachers who are implementing it. This ownership is more than tacit buy-in or acceptance but requires deeper, broader, and more substantial endorsement (McLaughlin & Mitra, 2001). …

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