This question came up recently when someone questioned the curriculum I use to teach Social Skills. It’s research-based but is it evidence-based, they had asked. People often use research-based and evidence-based interchangeably so I wondered, is there a difference?
Yes, there is.
Let’s say I get a non-verbal student with autism. I go into research articles to see what best practice for teaching language to students with autism is and find that there’s a lot of research supporting the use of visuals. So I create my own visuals and use them with the student. The visuals I have made are research-based. There is no evidence to suggest that my created visuals will actually be effective with my student.
Use the same example above, but instead of making my own visuals, let’s assume my school buys for my student and trains me in the PECS system (picture exchange communication system). This is a systematic system for teaching language with visuals. This system is evidence-based. Meaning it has been used with several students/clients and positive results have been replicated several times.
The reason the difference between the two is important is that the law regarding interventions has subtly changed over the years. First, schools were told to use research-based interventions and curriculums. Then, schools were told to use intervention programs rooted in “scientifically sound research”. With the latest rewrite of the law came the stipulation that schools need to use evidence-based interventions whenever possible.
It’s also important to know the difference because education is worth millions of dollars to curriculum companies. Those companies rely on buzz words like “research” and “evidence” to sell their products to schools and districts for thousands of dollars.
Knowing the difference between research-based and evidence-based will also help you understand why your curriculum specialist’s eye twitches every time she (or he!) walks into your classroom and sees worksheets bought off of Teachers Pay Teachers.