Reassessing RCTs as the ‘gold standard’: synergy not separatism in evaluation designs

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JournalInternational Journal of Research Methods in Education
DateAccepted/In press - 29 Jan 2016
DateE-pub ahead of print (current) - 2 Feb 2016
Number of pages2
Pages (from-to)297-298
Early online date2/02/16
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) are increasingly used to evaluate educational interventions in the UK. However, RCTs remain problematic for some elements of the research community. This paper argues that the widespread use of the term ‘gold-standard’ to describe RCTs is problematic, as it implies other research methods are inferior. The usefulness of RCTs can be greatly enhanced when used in conjunction with implementation-specific measures (eg observation tools, attitude/engagement surveys and interviews). The proposal is advanced through case studies of two evaluations. One relates to the development of science subject leader skills and expertise at primary school level and the other to co-operative learning of primary maths. Both evaluations randomised schools to the intervention or the business-as-usual control, and compared impact using subject knowledge tests. Integral to each study was a process evaluation which looked at evidence from classroom practice along with feedback from the teachers and pupils themselves. We contend that this enables a much more holistic and richly interpretative piece of research. The paper concludes that privilege for particular paradigms should be set aside when designing effective evaluations of educational interventions, and that an approach based on matching methods to research aims, questions and purposes is the most appropriate.

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