CLASS II is an IMLS-sponsored project engaged in the first phase of a research agenda proposed in the white paper, Causality: School Libraries and Student Success. The project’s ultimate goal is to explore possible causal relationships between the work of effective school librarians and student learning outcomes. Three teams of researchers (Old Dominion University, Florida State University, and the University of North Texas) have been conducting a review and aggregation of the research literature regarding the school-based malleable factors that impact student learning. Each team has taken a somewhat different approach to investigating the research problem; numerous conversations have centered on the types of research to be included in the aggregations and the ultimate synthesis. We are looking at causal relationships not limited to school library research in an effort to identify interventions that may already be or could potentially be used by school librarians.
Along with the rest of the school library profession, CLASS II research teams have been extremely interested in following ESSA implementation and the implications for school libraries. In September 2016, the Department of Education released the guidance “Using Evidence to Strengthen Educational Investments” to assist state and local education associations, schools, and other stakeholders in identifying “evidence-based” strategies, activities, and interventions. The document is divided into two parts. Part one outlines a cycle for continuous improvement based on identifying local needs evidence-based interventions, planning and implementing interventions, then “examining and reflecting” upon those implementations to continue the cycle to identify further local needs. Part two expands a key element of the cycle’s second step, to “Select relevant, evidence-based interventions” (U.S. Department of Education, 2016, p. 4).
Part two provides category criteria for strong, moderate, and promising interventions as well as criteria for a new, fourth category, “Demonstrates a Rationale.” This final category includes strategies, activities, or interventions “likely to improve student outcomes” (U.S. Department of Education, 2016, p. 7). Each of these evidence categories relates to the work of the three CLASS II research teams this year. The guidelines and definitions for “evidence-based” interventions mirrored many of the teams’ decisions to examine studies that are causal, quasi-experimental, or correlational with statistical controls. A result of this work this year will be an aggregation of research studies that meet the criteria for strong, moderate, and promising studies.
The additional category of “Demonstrates a Rationale” is particularly exciting for CLASS II proposed research. The Department of Education guidance describes this category as including “a logic model that is informed by research or an evaluation that suggests how the intervention is likely to improve relevant outcomes” (U.S. Department of Education, 2016, p. 7). A similar “logic model” is arguably the desired outcome of this first phase of CLASS II to establish a theory of the causal relationships between school libraries and student learning. In other words, by scouring the research literature and providing an eventual synthesis of the strong, moderate, and most promising findings, CLASS II hopes to provide a first step toward a theory that offers the logical model required for this final category of “evidence-based” intervention relative to the school library.
As the CLASS II project research progresses from reviewing existing research to identifying promising interventions to exploring those interventions through case studies set in school libraries, CLASS II aims to establish “a research organization studying the intervention elsewhere” (U.S. Department of Education, 2016, p. 7) for others as they gather compelling evidence that school libraries make a difference to student learning outcomes.
United States Department of Education (2016). Non-regulatory guidance: Using evidence to strengthen education investments. U.S. Department of Education. https://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/essa/guidanceuseseinvestment.pdf