Spurred, in part, by requirements in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), the use of scientifically derived information data become a significant part of educational programming for children with disabilities. Looking at data helps us to understand what is working and what is not. It provides an objective window by which we can examine our goals and approaches, and take action where it is needed.
The use of data has always been at the center of individualized instruction. Indeed, special educators have long used data to assess student strengths and needs, appropriately plan their educational programs, and monitor progress to ensure success. However, scientifically derived information increasingly is being used by practitioners not only to make educational and instructional decisions and chart progress, but also to plan behavioral interventions at both the individual student and schoolwide levels. School leaders have come to rely on data as a cornerstone of school improvement efforts, finding that the use of reliable information greatly enhances results for all children.
While most agree that data-based decision making is valuable, there is often a reluctance to use it. The paperwork associated with data collection can be time-consuming and burdensome. Frequently, data are not offered to address daily issues. Worse, data collected about schools are sometimes used to justify punishment of them. But, as University of Oregon researchers George Sugai, Robert Horner, and their colleagues point out, "Data need not be a four-letter word." Data can be used efficiently and effectively to make decisions that benefit everyone. And, researchers are helping us identify strategies for doing so.
Over the years OSEP has made an investment in promoting research that uses scientifically derived information to improve results for students with disabilities. However, rather than looking solely at how data can be used, the trend has been for researchers to develop interventions and approaches in which the use of data is an integral component. By positioning data use at the heart of change and improvement efforts, researchers are finding more practical and effective uses of data. This Research Connections takes a look at how researchers with OSEP support are discovering innovative uses of scientifically derived information in instructional and administrative decision making, along with strategies for enhancing its usability.