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Adult Literacy Policy, Scientifically Based Research, and Evidence-based Practice

Volume 5: Chapter Two
Larry Mikulecky

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In this chapter, Larry Mikulecky discusses the recent emphasis in education on “scientifically based research” and “evidence-based practice” and the implications for the field of adult literacy. He begins the chapter by offering some definitions of scientifically based research, since no one definition is as yet universally accepted. In addition, he notes three social forces driving the use of evidence-based practice and scientifically based research: a society-wide push for quality control; the desire for rational tools to inform funding reallocations and cuts; and growing skepticism among taxpayers and the public about the value of what their taxes fund. As Mikulecky points out, the push toward evidence-based practice has been proceeding for over a decade in other fields, such as health care delivery, and in other countries, such as the U.K.

Mikulecky describes national efforts to use scientifically based research to guide practice in K-12 reading instruction. In noting the reaction to these efforts, he highlights some of the critiques of the emphasis on scientifically based research and the continuing debate on the utility of this emphasis in the field of adult literacy. He also discusses an effort to provide research-based principles for adult literacy instruction. In conclusion, he cautions that current federal policies emphasizing scientifically based research may create an imbalance among the kinds of research required to inform instruction and future policies. He recommends that researchers work together to solve problems of research design and to employ mixed methodologies that meet high standards. Finally, Mikulecky calls on organizations in the field to engage in defining a position statement about the types of studies that provide the best information for adult literacy practitioners, who will be expected to demonstrate practice based on research.

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