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What Is Evidence-Based Instruction?

Evidence-based means using classroom practices based on clear and convincing proof from well-designed research and data analysis. Find out what to look for in identifying best practices.

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Identifying best practices

Evidence-based instruction (EBI) is the idea that classroom practices should be based on the best available scientific evidence, rather than personal judgment,  tradition, social media trends, or other influences. EBI are practices consistently associated with positive learning outcomes. Evidence-based means that at least one peer-reviewed, high-quality study (hopefully more!) suggests using a specific method, tool, or practice.   

Success in a MTSS framework hinges on Tier 1 instruction or high-quality general classroom instruction (Marchand-Martella, Ruby, & Martella, 2007). EBI in the general classroom should provide systematic, explicit, and cumulative instruction in whole-class and targeted small groups for reading. EBI should consider assessed needs of students and target areas of reading identified for best practice: 

  • oral language
  • concepts of print
  • alphabet knowledge
  • phonemic awareness
  • phonics and spelling
  • fluency
  • morphology
  • vocabulary
  • reading comprehension
  • writing

Grade-level teams may work together to create planning templates for allocating time and topics in whole and small-group instruction. Using collaborative planning allows grade-level teams to coordinate EBI and determine if instruction is working (Coyne et al, 2016)

Many schools adopt a core reading program to support EBI, since these programs include a scope and sequence, assist with vertical planning across grade levels, and provide suggestions for differentiating for students who are below and above grade level (Leonard, Coyne, Oldham, Burns, & Gillis, 2019). See the next section: Tier 1 Instruction.

For students with reading difficulties in Tiers 2 and 3, Gersten et al (2017) recommend devoting time to decoding and word-level study. The authors examined 20 studies of 11 different types of reading interventions and found the strongest effects for interventions that targeted word and pseudoword reading. For students in grades 2 and 3, there were some positive effects on reading comprehension and passage fluency. Surprisingly, most of the interventions were 1-on-1 and provided support for the intervention provider. Gersten et al (2017) noted that these practices (1:1 and ongoing support) were not typical of most schools.     

What to look for

Do an online search for reading instruction, and you will find a mind-boggling array of opinions and options. With so many competing ideas, how do we decide which ones are tried and true? 

Evidence-based means using classroom practices based on clear and convincing proof from well-designed research and data analysis. We use the accumulated evidence gleaned from scientific studies to guide our decision-making. 

To put our trust in evidence that we find, we consider the following:

Is the evidence…  This means…
ObjectiveAnyone who looks at the findings/evidence will interpret it in a similar way. 
ReliableWe would see the same results with different students,  locations, or times.   
ValidThe data truthfully represent the tasks needed to show success.
SystematicThe results followed a rigorous and organized plan or set of procedures.
RefereedContent experts checked and approved the results.

Evidence-based instructional strategies are aligned with how children learn to read, write, and spell. The evidence base for reading instruction constantly evolves and changes. This means that educators need ongoing professional development and access to authoritative, unbiased sources on the current science in order to base their teaching decisions on data rather than opinion and assumptions.

Learn more about evidence-based instruction

Browse our RTI and MTSS resource library

Learn more about whole-child interventions to support academic success. In our topics section, you’ll find articles, blog posts, videos, research reports, and more. RTI and MTSS