Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Sustainability of Research-Based Practices

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Sustainability of Research-Based Practices

Article excerpt

Special education research during the past 2 decades has experienced one of the most significant developments in the history of education (Gersten, Vaughn, Deshler, & Schiller, 1997). These developments can be linked to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997 and the resulting knowledge about teaching individuals with disabilities. This landmark legislation has not only provided a framework for the provision of educational services to all children with disabilities in the United States; it has also paved the way for dramatically altering the knowledge base about effective instructional practices and services for children and youth with disabilities. Research findings in special education have increased our knowledge and understanding about administrative decision making, assessment practices, service delivery models, instructional practices, positive behavioral supports, inclusion, technology, and practices for working effectively with families (e.g., Bos & Anders, 1990; Carnine, 1989; Chalfant & Pysh, 1989; Englert, Raphael, Anderson, Anthony, & Stevens, 1991; Fowler, 1986; Harry, Allen, & McLaughlin, 1995).

Equally important, research conducted with students with disabilities has informed general education. Research on cooperative learning, reading comprehension, instructional grouping procedures, and curriculum-based assessment (to name but a few) have significantly informed practice in general education. Special education research and practice, previously viewed as irrelevant by most members of the general education community, have been increasingly valued (McKenna, 1992; National Academy of Education, 1991).

Despite these accomplishments, the lack of "linkage" between research and practice and the extent to which research-based practices are sustained after researchers leave target sites have been of growing concern. The emphasis on implementing research-based practices has acquired a new level of importance. Perhaps not coincidentally, recent issues of the Educational Researcher (Volume 26, No. 5, 1997), the major journal of the American Educational Research Association, and Exceptional Children, (Volume 63, No. 4, 1997), the major research journal for The Council for Exceptional Children, each featured a series of articles addressing the issue of enhancing the impact of educational research. Furthermore, school districts and State Departments of Education are rallying around the banner of providing research-based evidence for the effectiveness of practices prior to adoption and implementation. In fact, the words "research says" introduce so many statements about practices, programs, and materials, that most of us are compelled to reply, "what research?"

Recently, the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs has provided funding to conduct research that contributes to understanding sustained implementation of research-based practices (i.e., Sustainability of Promising Innovations and Beacons of Excellence). These competitions, designed to better understand linkages between research and sustained practice, seem warranted based on converging evidence that we know considerably more about effective instruction than is typically represented and maintained over time in classrooms.

Research in special education has proliferated in the last decade and has significantly influenced educational thinking and to some extent educational practice. However, there is growing concern that research knowledge may not be closely enough linked to practice. Furthermore, when research practices are implemented in schools there is considerable evidence that they are not sustained over time (Fuchs & Fuchs, 1998; Mastropieri & Scruggs, 1998).

This article reviews what we know about the sustainability of research-based practices and the extent to which it is reasonable to assume that educators can or should sustain practices over time.


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