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  • Perspectives on Evidence-Based
  • Peter V. Paul

Considerable discussion of the components or standards of evidence-based, particularly evidence-based practice, has occurred—for example, in the journal Exceptional Children (Council for Exceptional Children [CEC], 2014). There has also been much debate on the relationship of evidence-based practice to the use of selected scientific research methods (see, e.g., Odom et al., 2005). It has been argued that evidence-based practice should be contingent on the findings of high-quality scientific research—that is, research that has met critical quality indicators, another debatable construct (Gersten et al., 2005; Horner et al., 2005; Stanovich, 2000). With respect to d/Deaf and hard of hearing children, there have been several publications focusing on evidence-based practice and outcomes (Knoors & Marschark, 2018; Luckner, Sebald, Cooney, Young, & Muir, 2005/2006; Trezek & Wang, 2017).

Much as in the case of the "meta-" words (meta-analysis, metacognition, metacomprehension, metalanguage, metalinguistics, metatheory, etc.), we have witnessed an explosion of phrases involving the construct evidence-based. Google this term and/or conduct a literature review; examples that emerge include evidence-based associates, evidence-based dentistry, evidence-based eating guide, evidence-based education, evidence-based information, evidence-based interventions, evidence-based management, evidence-based medicine, evidence-based mentoring, evidence-based methodology, evidence-based nursing, evidence-based policing matrix, evidence-based practice, evidence-based research, evidence-based scheduling, evidence-based science, evidence-based theory, even evidence-based metatheory. My guess is that this list is not exhaustive. This makes me wonder: If "it" is not evidence-based, is it of any value, especially for theorists, researchers, and practitioners in the education of d/Deaf and hard of hearing students?

Let's start with a discussion of these questions: What does evidence-based mean? Is this the best construct for research in education, including special education? First, it should be asserted that evidence-based, or, specifically, evidence-based practice, is not a new idea. This construct has been associated with the "bench to bedside" approach in the medical profession—indeed, evidence-based medicine emerged during the 1980s, gaining wide recognition during the 1990s (Smith & Rennie, 2014). However, according to Rahman and Applebaum (2010), the roots go much deeper:

The concepts underlying evidence-based practice have long-standing roots in efforts to provide assistance to individuals. During the Crimean War in the 1850s, Florence Nightingale was engaged in evidence-based practice when she noted a connection between poor sanitary conditions in the hospital and rising death rates among wounded soldiers. Her subsequent efforts to sanitize hospitals to save soldiers led to dramatic drops in patient mortality (Baker, 1983). Her methods—a [End Page 423] process of identifying, critically appraising, and summarizing the best available evidence—were a precursor of today's standards for evidence-based practice.

(p. 6)

Despite the controversy, the attempt is to use the evidence from empirical scientific research to proffer implications for effective practice such as interventions, strategies, or services. These effective practices (i.e., those with positive results) are purportedly based on research that has met the quality indicators adequately across a specific number of investigations involving a variety of different researchers. As mentioned previously, there is much debate about what constitutes high-quality research, specifically how this conceptualization applies to the use of different research designs such as experimental, quasi-experimental, and single-subject. See, for example, the discussion in CEC (2014); see also the discussion in the What Works Clearinghouse Standards Handbook, Version 4.0 (WWC, n.d.).

Research that utilizes well-designed and well-implemented randomized controlled trials (RCTs) has been considered "strong evidence" by WWC, albeit quasi-experimental designs may meet the standards with reservations. RCT has become a controversial topic among theorists and researchers in special education. Essentially, it has been argued that students with disabilities in special education programs constitute a complex, heterogeneous, often low-incidence group, which present challenges in the use of group (quantitative) methodology and, particularly, RCTs. Given the legal nature of the individualized education program, it is most likely unethical, if not illegal, to randomly assign a child to a nontreatment group on the basis of a research design, rather than the child's specific...


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