R&D Cycles of Studies
WestEd strives to increase the use of more effective and evidence-based practice. Using R&D cycles of studies, we add to the stock of such practice.
Good ideas to improve education and student learning don’t leap by magic from concept to full-blown, effective instructional strategies, assessments, or technological tools. Even when the concept is inspired by research, establishing its practical applicability and impact is itself a research endeavor, requiring an array of development activities.
Such activities as evidence syntheses, expert review, prototyping, and field-testing become components of a series of studies — studying a strategy’s or tool’s feasibility, usability, and impact. Along the way, various elements of the strategy or tool are fine-tuned, minimized, or elaborated.
This process of research and development is the R&D cycle.
The cycle was once framed as linear: research, followed by development, then dissemination and use. Long ago, that thinking evolved with lessons learned. For one, research is not always the starting point. Instead, other drivers — such as an idea for an unaddressed instructional problem or a sense that a certain technology has unrecognized importance — may trigger new product development and testing. Early small-scale testing may lead to additional cycles in new contexts or settings.
Fundamentally, R&D is not a cloistered activity. It requires a full-on equal partnership with the practitioners who need to own, implement, and institutionalize new strategies. Planning and action must be deeply grounded in participants’ understanding of each other’s goals, intentions, and organizational capabilities. In early stages, this partnership ensures that the new strategy is practical. As the work scales up, the partnership encourages commitment and allows for local adaptation and continuous improvement.
Illustrative examples from our work
Reading Apprenticeship, a professional development program whose effectiveness is validated by rigorous impact studies, has been designed and developed over years to address an urgent problem: high school students struggling with subject matter because they lack reading comprehension. To address this problem, our researchers began by conducting academic literacy studies in partnership with teachers. Guided by the findings, they designed a strategy for simultaneously teaching subject matter and discipline-specific reading skills. When pilot-testing resulted in stunning test score gains, they incorporated their instructional framework into an expanded professional development program for hundreds of schools, adapting and growing it over years. Today, with strong federally funded research validation, Reading Apprenticeship is in high demand nationwide in middle and high schools as well as colleges.
R&D support for ed tech products
In a market flooded with ed tech startups, WestEd is fostering quality by using our R&D expertise to help ed tech entrepreneurs develop practical, high-quality products. We provide our startup partners with the learning science, content, and classroom practice expertise they need to develop ideas into research-based, effective education improvement tools. At varying stages of the R&D cycle, WestEd designs and executes studies that provide crucial feedback. The work includes expert subject area review, focus groups, and studies of usability, feasibility, fidelity of implementation, early impact, and promise.
Support for developing new K–12 science assessment systems
Many states and school districts have sought help implementing the Next Generation Science Standards, which eschew rote learning in favor of hands-on learning and critical scrutiny of scientific evidence. Gauging student progress under these next generation standards requires developing fundamentally different types of assessments than had typically been used previously. WestEd is providing states and cross-state groups with the expertise to create assessment systems that yield valid, fair, and reliable measures of students’ science knowledge and abilities. To align with the new standards, valid assessments must go beyond multiple choice, instead involving performance-based tasks showing that students understand science concepts and can apply science knowledge and skills. We work with policymakers and education stakeholders to facilitate a multi-stage, evidence-based development process incorporating innovative design and iterative cycles of prototyping and piloting.