February 2020
Volume XVII Issue II


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Evidence-Based Interventions


When I reflect on my years as a classroom teacher, I am reminded of the many things I learned along the way. Some things I learned from listening to others; other things I learned from day- to- day practice when I realized that there was a better or different way to do things. I am so grateful that I have always had an open mind and that I was willing to have honest conversations with myself and make adjustments in my teaching that made things better for kids.

As a fledgling teacher, I employed methods that my teachers followed when I was a student. We really had very little direction so it seemed like a logical process. Periodically I would administer an assessment, grade the papers and return them to the class. No discussion, no feedback, just a letter grade on top of the first page. It did not take long for me to realize that this was not working. In a quiet moment of reflection, I came to the conclusion that I had no idea what and if the students were learning. We were simply “doing school” the way I had experienced it.

I realized that I needed more and my students needed more. I began to think about individual students and what they were getting out of their educational experience with me. Were they really learning? How would I know? I concluded that I needed to plan lessons that included ideas/strategies that would enable me to better see progress and to allow students to reflect on how and what they were learning. Additionally, I decided to examine each individual’s answers/responses more closely and look for data that let me know what actions I could take to promote growth. I could then follow up with more one-on-one time with individual students and focus more on what I later called “mastery level learning” for all my learners. It went way beyond an “aha” moment; it was life changing.

Flash ahead many years later. Today we have terminology that represents what I discovered during those early years: Evidence-Based Interventions. Whereas my learning was based on common sense and personal observations, the concept of evidence-based interventions is now more formalized and research-based. This issue examines the meaning of evidence-based interventions, why they are important, how they should be used, and how to make them a routine part of instruction.

Evidence-Based Interventions and ESSA
While the thinking behind evidence-based interventions is not new, more light has been shed on them through the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The law encourages districts and schools to replace the term “scientifically-based intervention” with “evidence-based interventions.” A document published by the California Department of Education clarifies the change this way: “This shift was designed to help increase the impact of educational investments by ensuring that interventions being implemented have proven to be effective in leading to desired outcomes, namely improving student achievement.” Research has shown that evidence-based teaching strategies are likely to have the largest impact on student results. ESSA describes evidence that falls into four tiers or categories:

  • Tier 1 – Strong evidence
  • Tier 2 – Moderate evidence
  • Tier 3 – Promising evidence
  • Tier 4 – Demonstrates a rationale

Schools and districts applying evidence-based interventions as part of their improvement plans are encouraged to use tiers 1-3.

Top Ten Evidence-Based Strategies
In the aftermath of ESSA, researchers and pundits have weighed in on how to best proceed with the application of evidence-based interventions. However, educators are very busy people who may not find the time to research interventions and their tiers. Experienced principal Shaun Killian has explored a number of research studies and concluded that certain strategies have a greater impact on student growth than others. Killian’s conclusions, which represent a great deal of good old common sense, deserve a closer examination since they are practical in nature and can easily become a part of a teacher’s regular practice.

In his article entitled “Top 10 Evidence-based Teaching Strategies” Killian provides a detailed justification for including the following strategies in a teacher’s daily lessons:

  1. Clear lesson goals (what students should learn)
  2. Show & Tell (sharing basic content information and knowledge)
  3. Questioning to check for understanding (checking before moving on)
  4. Summarize new learning in a graphic way (mind maps, flow charts, Venn diagrams, etc.)
  5. Plenty of practice (not mindless busy work)
  6. Provide students feedback (focus on student understanding and not just the current
  7. Be flexible about how long it takes (the goal is mastery learning but time can vary
    for different students)
  8. Productive group work (in productive ways)
  9. Teach strategies not just content (encourage students to apply relevant practices regularly)
  10. Nuture metacognition (help students think about options and choices)

For a more detailed understanding of Killian’s thinking go to https://www.evidencebasedteaching.org.au/evidence-based-teaching-strategies.

The Science of Learning
Paul Bruno of the George Lucas Educational Foundation focuses on how students acquire and retain information to improve their ability to think more critically and improve their ability to problem solve. In his article, “How People Learn: An Evidence-based Approach,” Bruno discusses scientific principles all teachers should know and follow:

  • Students get a better grasp on new learning when they can connect it to what they already know
  • Students remember information better when they practice retrieving it from long-term memories and focus more on its meaning
  • When teachers emphasize background knowledge and provide timely feedback, students develop better critical thinking skills
  • The more knowledge (content) students have about a subject the better they can expand problem-solving abilities
  • When students feel a sense of belonging in a class and when they can see that their effort is paying off, their motivation will increase.

Although these ideas may seem basic to good teaching and learning, I provide Bruno’s principles as the type of evidence teachers should have in mind as they make their unit and daily lesson plans.

A Difference of Opinion
Educators Carl Robinson and Todd Rogers feel strongly that we must raise the bar for what constitutes evidence in education. They write, “Policymaker and practitioners evaluating research studies should have more confidence in studies where some findings have been observed multiple times in different settings with large samples.” Education professor Joseph Murphy disagrees. In his article “Stop Devaluing the Wisdom of Teachers. Researchers Don’t Have a Monopoly on Evidence,” he makes several important points that are worth considering: “Scientific evidence is not the only source of knowledge nor is it the source of knowledge that always holds high ground in decision-making, and knowledge from the real world of teaching has high influence.”

Murphy defends the recognition of “craft knowledge” as legitimate evidence. Craft knowledge includes stories, ad hoc observations and intuitions that teachers have discovered can have a strong positive impact on learning, and yet scientific knowledge is not available to back them up. He also cites “moral evidence,” which includes courses of actions teachers may take that are ethical and equitable in nature but which have no research to support them, and yet they have a positive impact on student learning. Moral evidence might include differentiated instruction, social-emotional learning, or the application of growth mindsets.
Murphy ends with a question that captures the essence of “Evidence-Based Interventions.” He writes “The most important question is: How do we begin to acknowledge and use valuable evidence from all sources of knowledge to assist in the improvement of schools?

Whether you are a district leader, a school-based administrator, or a classroom teacher, selecting and utilizing evidence-based interventions can be a powerful asset to improve learning. What’s your next step?



Resources and References

Bruno, Paul. “How People Learn: An Evidence-Based Approach.” Edutopia.

Hewitt, Allison. “Evidence-Based Interventions Under the ESSA.” California Department of Education.

Killian, Shaun. “Top Ten Evidence Based Teaching Strategies.” N Announce

Murphy, Joseph. “Stop Devaluing the Wisdom of Teachers. Researchers Don’t Have a Monopoly on Evidence.” Education Week.

Robinson, Carly and Todd Rogers. “We Must Raise the Bar for Evidence in Education.” Education Week.




Instruction for All Students provides extensive information about evidence based strategies.



Permission is granted for reprinting and distribution of this newsletter for non-commercial use only. Please include the following citation on all copies:
Oliver, Bruce. “Evidence-Based Interventions.”  Just for the ASKing! February 2020. Reproduced with permission of Just ASK Publications & Professional Development. © 2020. All rights reserved. Available at www.justaskpublications.com.