Most Rigorous Large-Scale Educational RCTs are Uninformative: Should We Be Concerned?

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JournalEducational Researcher
DateAccepted/In press - 28 Jan 2019
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

There are a growing number of large-scale educational Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs). Considering their expense, it is important to reflect on the effectiveness of this approach. We assessed the magnitude and precision of effects found in those large-scale RCTs commissioned by the EEF (UK) and the NCEE (US) which evaluated interventions aimed at improving academic achievement in K-12 (141 RCTs; 1,222,024 students). The mean effect size was 0.06 standard deviations (SDs). These sat within relatively large confidence intervals (mean width 0.30 SDs) which meant that the results were typically uninformative (the median Bayes factor was 0.68). We argue that our field needs, as a priority, to understand why educational RCTs typically find small and uninformative effects.

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