The REAL Impact Factor of Research

In academia, researchers are often measured by the impact factor they achieve. The impact factor is calculated, largely through a formula that determines how well read and cited your research is. Unfortunately, the articles and journals that count the most are never read by actual educators. Researchers write for one another and are rewarded for having other researchers read their work. Their “impact factor” rises. But was there actually…an impact to that work?

One area where we are really ready to grow in special education is in improving our use of high quality assessment to really drive our intervention. Right now, we see the same pattern over and over again. We conduct traditional standardized assessments, we determine whether the student is eligible for special education services, and we write an IEP that meets every legal requirement. I spent years studying this and writing about it.

But often, there is so much pressure to make sure the IEP is legally defensible, that the IEP itself becomes the end, rather than a true means to support learning through high quality assessment and intervention. The IEP often lives in a drawer and comes out when it is time to take data for progress notes. Yes, too frequently, data collection is a stressful “event,” rather than an embedded natural part of everyday teaching.

10 years ago my role as a researcher and my role as a parent collided when my child was diagnosed as being gifted with a learning disability. As a mom I received report cards and even progress notes that told me little about my child’s progress in language arts. And my experience is not unique! My own research and research of others tells confirms this as the norm. Most teachers have not been prepared to measure and report progress for those who experience learning differences.

My passion is to push us beyond meeting the letter of the IDEA law and truly meet the spirit of the law. We need to develop IEPs and IFSPs that are meaningful for children and families and truly fuel participation and learning in everyday routine and activities of the general curriculum. And we need to report progress and grades in a way that everyone on the team, including families and children can understand.

Those of us who are researchers must bring our own research and the broader body of research to practitioners in a way that is consumable and immediately useful in the everyday classroom. Writing for other researchers in peer-reviewed journals isn’t enough. Our practice must be grounded in solid research AND our research must be relevant to and scalable within real-world practice. I get so excited about working in this space where research meets the everyday inquiry of real teachers working to have the real impact factor.

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