The University of Iowa

Evidence-Based vs. Research-Based Interventions


Posted on: October 12, 2015

Have you ever wondered about the terms evidence-based and research-based interventions? Educators and schools often wrestle with these terms as they consider programs or intervention to implement.

Evidence-Based vs. Research-Based: What is the Difference?

Many publishers tout their programs as being research-based or evidence-based, and oftentimes people use those terms interchangeably.   Have you ever wondered if there was a difference between evidence-based and research-based and, if so, what that difference might be?

Dr. Sally Shaywitz, Co-Director of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, provides a simple explanation in a brief video clip about the difference between the two terms and how they relate to reading programs. She discusses how research-based means there are theories behind it, but that they aren’t always proven true. She tells how evidence-based means there is efficacy to back it up.

We can help explain what Dr. Shaywitz meant by “efficacy” in several ways. First, it requires that the program was studied by researchers who were not involved in creating the program. In addition, the researchers cannot stand to profit from the outcomes. Finally, the study the researchers conducted should have the following characteristics:

  • The program was compared to another type of program or a different kind of instruction.
  • Improvements in students’ reading abilities were measured with valid and reliable instruments.
  • There was a thorough description of how the program was implemented so that others could follow those same procedures and include the same elements.
  • The effect sizes were reported, and those revealed an improvement that was significantly greater than any improvement in the comparison condition.

Understanding what creates an evidence base is helpful when thinking about intervention programs, particularly for those students with serious reading difficulties. As Dr. Shaywitz commented, “Our children’s reading is too important to be left to theoretical, but unproven, practices and methods. We must replace anecdotal and common, but not evidence-based practices with those that are proven; that is, they are evidence-based.”

Reviews of Intervention Programs

The Iowa Department of Education has commissioned a review of the evidence base for literacy interventions commonly used in the state. Studies that examined the effectiveness of these programs were evaluated against rigorous criteria such as those used by the National Center on Intensive Interventions (NCII) and the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC). The NCII maintains an Academic Intervention Tools Chart to summarize their reviews of individual studies on programs.

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC), part of the Institute of Education Science, is another source for determining which programs and practices have evidence of effectiveness. The WWC reviews research designed to answer the question, “What works in education?” You can visit the WWC and use the filters to locate reviews specific to reading skills.