Research-Based Practice

School Psychologists as Consumers of Research: Introduction to the Series

By Matthew K. Burns

Volume 44 Issue 5

By Matthew K. Burns

It seems that every few years the next big thing comes along in education that is going to change the way we operate. From learning styles to whole language to multisensory education to student control over learning, it seems that education is especially susceptible to educational fads. The problem is that when researched, most of the fads tend to have disappointing results. For example, the meta-analytic research by Hattie (2009) found small to negligible effects for learning styles (d = 0.09 to 0.29), whole language (d = 0.06), multisensory education (d = 0.08), and student control over learning (d = .04).

One of my favorite quotes regarding educational research and practice was from Ellis (2005), who stated that in education, “today’s flagship is often tomorrow’s abandoned shipwreck” (p. 200). We learn of a new innovative idea, spend resources to purchase it, get trained in it, spend countless instructional hours implementing it, but then count the days until it is forgotten and we move on to the new big thing. Ellis further discusses the role that research plays in preventing the spread of fads and indicates that we need research to show that the intervention comes from sound theory, is effective, and can be implemented with success, which is where school psychologists come in.

Keith (2008) suggested that school psychologists should be effective consumers, distributors, and conductors of research. Although schools may not need people to actually conduct research, all of them need people to consume and distribute research, which is another potentially unique contribution that school psychologists can make to educational practice. There is a long history of school psychologists being the group who questioned the upcoming fad. We were the ones asking about research support for learning styles and whole language, and we can be the ones who provide the scientifically skeptical voice to the conversation that may prevent, or at least slow down, administrators from dedicating money and time to something that may only serve to consume precious educational dollars and even more precious time.

Keith (2008) also indicated that it was conventional wisdom to assume that school psychologists were not interested in research, but that his (and my) experience contradicted that. The difficulty is that school psychologists may not have access to research or the skill set to adequately evaluate the studies. Fortunately, access to research has never been better thanks to search engines like Google Scholar, research summaries on the NASP website (, and other research-based websites such as the Evidence Based Network ( However, school psychologists need the skills to evaluate the published research. Communiqué will help support this important role by publishing a brief series of articles that describe different research and statistical methodologies, and how to best consume them. The School Psychologists as Consumers of Research series will include articles that provide refreshers on what each approach is, the key terms, and guidelines to critically evaluate its application. The first entry is a description of ANOVA by Kilgus, and other entries will include structural equation modeling (next issue by von der Embse), regression, single-case design, and meta-analyses.

The brief descriptions provided in the series will likely not be sufficient for school psychologists to become experts in consuming research, but will hopefully help those who want to become more involved in helping schools implement research-based practices. Perhaps school psychologists can provide the inoculation against the next educational fad, and in doing so better support the children and youth that we serve.


Ellis, A. K. (2005). Research on educational innovations (4th ed.). Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. New York, NY: Routledge.

Keith, T. Z. (2008). Best practices in using and conducting research in applied settings. In A. Thomas & J. Grimes (Eds.) Best practices in school psychology V (pp. 2165–2175). Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.

Matthew K. Burns, PhD, is the Associate Dean for Research with the College of Education and a Professor of School Psychology at the University of Missouri. He is also a contributing editor for Communiqué