Evidence-based practice applies to school library staff as it does to other educators. Evidence of the impact of library-based initiatives informs decision-making that supports the school’s goals on student achievement and quality teaching and learning.
Evidence can be used to identify problems, guide decisions on appropriate solutions, guide how resources should be used, and identify progress on meeting goals.
Evidence can be drawn from research, collegial best practice and from data.
Effective use of evidence moves the school library from an advocacy strategy to a learning outcomes approach, ensuring that all goals and initiatives are soundly based on research evidence and learners’ needs. The school librarian becomes a key player in supporting learning outcomes for students.
At the 2007 Leadership Summit hosted by The School Library Journal on “Where’s the evidence? Understanding the impact of school libraries” Dr Ross Todd, Director of Rutgers University’s Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries (CISSL) explored what evidence-based practice means for school librarians.
Ross Todd emphasised the need to use research-based evidence to inform everything that a school librarian does.
He described three dimensions of evidence-based practice in school libraries: 'Evidence for practice, evidence in practice, and evidence of practice'.
Evidence for practice
“Examining and using empirical research to form practices and inform actions, and to identify best practices. This is the informational dimension of school library practice.”
Examples of evidence for practice include:
- NEMP: New Zealand’s National Education Monitoring Project which surveys Year 4 and Year 8 students across a number of learning areas, including Information Skills. The focus is on national change over time, providing information that can be used as evidence for improvement.
- Shields, G. & Bennett, D.(2006). Curriculum Alignment Project (CAP) Fishing with the New Net: Transfer of Students' Information-literacy Skills between the Secondary and Tertiary environments. NZ research highlighting differences between students' perceptions of information literacy skills, and teacher perceptions and expectations at secondary and tertiary (polytechnic) levels. SET: Research Information for Teachers, 2.
- The findings of the Probe studies from NEMP provide a useful background to the learning processes of New Zealand primary school students.
- PISA studies: The international OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) studies provide evidence from their three-yearly surveys of 15-year-olds, on how New Zealand students rank compared with other Western countries in terms of acquiring some of the knowledge and skills essential for full participation in society. The PISA studies look at how well students are prepared for future challenges, whether they can analyse, reason and communicate effectively, and have the capacity to continue learning throughout life.
Evidence in practice
“Integrating the available research evidence with the deep knowledge and understanding derived from professional experience, as well as using local evidence to identify learning dilemmas and needs, and achievement gaps. This kind of reflective practice enables us to make informed decisions about how the school library can bring about optimal learning outcomes and actively contribute to fulfilling the school’s mission and goals. This is the transformational dimension of school library practice.” - Ross Todd, The evidence-based manifesto for school librarians.
Evidence of practice
This is “derived from systematically measured, student-based data. It’s about the real results of what school librarians actually do. Evidence of practice focuses on measured outcomes and impacts, going beyond process and activities as outputs. It establishes what has changed for learners as a result of inputs, interventions, activities, and processes.”
A record of the library contribution to students learning can be collated from the desk diary kept on going or at certain times of the year or with groups classes of students.
The full manifesto includes a ‘to do’ list for school librarians at the end.
The draft Evaluation indicators for school reviews (June 2010) (PDF) from New Zealand's Education Review Office (ERO) builds on the original ERO indicators for school reviews, and has revised them to align with the new Curriculum, and with the Ministry of Education's Iterative Best Evidence Synthesis which has provided more information on factors that impact on student achievement and progress. Developed around six dimensions of good practice that are based on current educational research, the indicators also focus on building evaluation capacity in schools.
For teachers and school librarians it will be essential to look carefully at this document, especially page 30 under "Use of appropriate teaching and learning resources" where the indicator is "Students use the library effectively", and on page 42 under "Allocation of resources" - with a number of indicators, and potential sources of evidence. Here is an opportunity to gather and present your "evidence of practice" that demonstrates effectiveness of the library and its support for learning.
- NZ Ministry of Education. (2005) Making a bigger difference for all students. Hangaia he huarahi hei whakarewa ake i nga tauira katoa. Schooling strategy 2005-10: Medium Term Strategy.
- Ross Todd (2004): Knowing and showing how school library programs help students learn (PPT)
- Hipkins, R. Students' experience of "researching" in different subjects. set: Research information for teachers. 1:2005a, p.18-22.
- Hipkins, R. Information literacy and student research. set: Research information for teachers. 2:2005b, p.27-31.
- Hipkins, R. Building students research expertise: History as a case study. set: Research information for teachers. 3:2005c, p.50-53.
- Hipkins, R. If research is the answer, what is the question? set: Research information for teachers.1:2006, p.47-51.
- Teaching as inquiry as described in the NZC, p.35, provides an overview of an approach to the teaching-learning cycle that uses evidence for practice (focusing inquiry - what the students already know, and what they need to learn next); evidence in practice (teaching inquiry – using evidence from research and best practice to plan for achieving learning outcomes); and evidence of practice (learning inquiry - using evidence through assessment to find out whether learning outcomes have been achieved).
- Student achievement - the research, under Developing Your Library