Taking two courses pertaining to educational research, while a bit daunting, was instrumental in supplying me with the skills I need to understand the role of research in education as well as apply the concepts, procedures and vocabulary to my educational practice. The appropriate use of educational research enables educators collect and analyze data to make make sound instructional decisions, evaluate research findings for validity and effectively communicate research findings to others.
Research methods can be either quantitative or qualitative. Quantitative studies are objective and seek to bring forth unambiguous findings. Such research emphasizes numbers and measurements. Qualitative research involves the interpretation of verbal narratives and observations rather than numbers. Historically, educational research was primarily quantitative but today it is common to find useful qualitative studies or mixed-method designs. (McMillan, 2012)
Researchers must also decide whether the question or hypothesis requires an experimental or non-experimental design (McMillan, 2012) . An experimental design is necessary if the investigator wishes to directly manipulate a variable and establish cause and effect. For example, experimental design would be appropriate if a researcher wanted to determine which group of students achieved higher fluency scores, those that practiced with a parent volunteer or those who practiced with an older buddy student. An investigator who does not plan to manipulate a variable will employ a non-experimental research design. This would be appropriate if there was a desire to investigate whether or not there is a correlation between teacher attitudes towards a particular math curriculum and student achievement. Observations would be made and data collected but no variable would be manipulated.
Action research is another research design that is used to solve specific problems at one site such as a classroom or school. There are three types of action research which are individual teacher research, collaborative action research, and school wide action research. Veteran teacher Wendi Pillars conducted an individual action research study to address the problem of minimal reading growth in her ELL third graders. Although she did not find the all-inclusive answer to her question, she found that “AR can be a way to practice what I preach, take my own learning deeper, and improve my effectiveness as a teacher “(Pillar, 2012).
Having an understanding of the processing and analysis of research data allows one to organize data in a meaningful way as well as critically review and interpret the research of others. Researchers are able to summarize and compare scores and values by understanding the nature of percentages, measures of central tendency, the normal curve and probability.
The ability to determine the validity of a research study is valuable both for the researcher and the consumer. Validity can be external or internal. External validity addresses how well the study results can be generalized to different subjects within the same defined population parameters. Internal validity refers to “the extent to which the intervention, and not extraneous or confounding variables, produced the observed effect” (McMillan, 2012). In order for research studies to be considered credible consumers and researchers alike must evaluate factors that contribute to or detract from validity. As an illustration, validity is questioned in a study by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) which concluded that there is steady progress in student achievement level in charter schools. In a letter to the editor of Education Week (Center for Education Reform…, August 2013), the writer claims that randomized control trials were not used to measure progress. The writer also stated that CREDO employed “statistical gymnastics to compare student achievement in charter schools across state lines while adjusting data to ensure that all students start at the same level” (Center for Education Reform…, 2013). Such factors would threaten the external validity of the study.
The value of sound educational research cannot be understated. Equally important is being an informed consumer of research so that decision making and problem solving can be based on the reliable and accurate interpretation of data. It is true that data shown through statistics can be intentionally misleading. As Sprinthall states (2012), “To the uninitiated, liars can figure plausibly.” I am thankful for the tools and knowledge I received in EDU 6975 and 6976 that have enabled and inspired me to be initiated.
I am including a link to a description of a research hypothesis and outline I prepared here: Instructional Grouping Strategies that Affect Reading Fluency in Kindergarten that includes notes regarding the subject relevancy, related literature references, sampling procedures, a description of variables and measures, possible threats to validity with plans for correction, and operational definitions.
Center for Education Reform ‘Skeptical’ of Charter Study. (2013, August 5). In Education Week. Retrieved August 23, 2013, from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2013/08/07/37letter-3.h32.html?qs=research+validity+in+education
McMillan, J. H. (2012). Educational Research: Fundamentals for the Consumer (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.
Pillars, W. (2012, September 5). What Teachers Need to Know About Action Research. In Education Week. Retrieved August 23, 2013, from http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2012/09/05/tln_pillars_actionresearch.html?qs=action+research
Sprinthall, R. C. (2012). Statistical Analysis (9th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.