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Alan C. K. Cheung on Evidence-based Education Reform

Prof. Alan C.K. Cheung
Department of Educational Administration and Policy

What is evidence-based education reform?

Like every other social institution, education must change, progress and reform itself with the times. Any new direction in the development of education must be based on evidence involving the collective efforts of researchers, practitioners and policy-makers. To facilitate policy-makers to make informed decisions in implementing or enhancing educational programmes, concrete evidence, in addition to intangible know-how, must be made available in a structured manner.

What is the Success for All (SFA) programme?

The SFA programme is a research-based reform model developed by scholars at Johns Hopkins University. It was designed to improve the literacy capacity of students from an early age in the US. The thinking behind the programme is that reading skills provide a critical part of the foundation for children's overall academic success. I had collaborated with researchers at Johns Hopkins, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Concordia University and the University of York (UK) to study the effectiveness of the programme.

We found that comprehensive school-level reform and targeted student-level achievement could be obtained through a multi-year sequencing of literacy instruction.

What other related work did you do?

I then took part in the work at the Centre for Data-Driven Reform in Education (CDDRE) at Johns Hopkins which had created a district-level reform model providing consultation to district leaders in 59 districts in seven states of the US on strategic use of data and selection of proven programmes. This large-scale four-year longitudinal study supports a model of change in which initial consultation and implementation of benchmark assessments motivate school leaders to adopt programmes with good evidence of effectiveness. The findings also reveal that reading effects were larger for schools that selected reading programmes with good evidence of effectiveness than for those that did not.

Why did you create the Best-Evidence Encyclopedia website?

For evidence-based reform to work, syntheses of research on educational interventions and programmes are also critical and have taken on increasing policy importance. Based on my research on SFA and at CDDRE and my continuing interest in evidence-based education reform, my colleagues at Johns Hopkins and York and I created an educator-friendly website in both the US and the UK (www.bestevidence.org; www.bestevidence.org.uk) to promote the use of research proven programmes with strong evidence of effectiveness and to make the information more accessible to practitioners and educators.

Why would you want to replicate the programme in Hong Kong?

After my research in the US, I began to wonder if the same reading programme could be implemented in Hong Kong to benefit Chinese primary school students learning English. Therefore I invited my collaborators from Johns Hopkins, Hong Kong Baptist University and City University of Hong Kong to embark on a one-year pilot programme to localize the programme and evaluate its effectiveness in Hong Kong.

What did you find?

Although the pilot programme only involved a small sample of students it nevertheless produced significant results. While the SFA programme was designed for students whose mother-tongue was English, it was shown that the 'localized' programme worked equally well with students whose first language was not English. The data provided by the research proves that the programme can be transferred to different cultural and language contexts with some adaptations. The pilot project also paved the way for a more qualitative, longer term and longitudinal research so that Hong Kong can enjoy the same cost-saving benefits as the US through a localized similar programme.

As you see it, how evidence-based reform in education can be promoted in Hong Kong?

Many people believe that evidence-based practice is the concern of the academics only. However, in order to make evidence-based reform work in Hong Kong, academics, practitioners, and policy makers need to make a concerted effort to use rigorous research methods to examine the effectiveness of our current practices, to encourage the development of new innovative interventions, and to promote the use of scientifically proven interventions in our classrooms.