conducted to establish a causal relationship between an intervention
and impact on behavior. It is often conducted in controlled laboratory
settings to assure the results are a function of the intervention
rather than so other variable. The primary value of efficacy research
is to identify promising interventions.
research is usually conducted in highly controlled settings so that a
clear causal relation between an intervention and a behavior can be
demonstrated. By conducting the research in laboratory settings there
are usually constraints on how participants are selected; who
implements the intervention, and the level of supervision over the
As a result of constraining participants,
change agents, and by closely supervising the implementation,
practitioners often see the research as being irrelevant, impractical,
and impossible because they must serve all students without constraint;
interventions are often implemented by individuals who have not been
trained in the specific intervention; and the resources associated with
the research are not available in most practice settings.
research is the most common type of published research for reasons
related to the promotion and tenure system in universities.
are two primary functions of efficacy research. The first is that it
identifies promising interventions that can be evaluated further. The
second value is to identify basic mechanisms that account for an
The objective of
is to demonstrate that an intervention impacts behavior, either
academic or social. The primary concern is the demonstration of a
causal relation between the intervention and the behavior. The research
is often conducted in highly structured and controlled laboratory
situations to clearly demonstrate impact and causation. This assures
that the changes in behavior are the result of the intervention and not
some other source of influence. Confidence in the relationship between
the intervention and behavior increases as more of the extraneous
variables are controlled. In efficacy research, the researcher works to
reduce or eliminate uncontrolled variables so that there are no valid
alternative explanations for the results.
usual means for accomplishing this level of precision is to carefully
select the participants in the research, use highly trained change
agents (often graduate students and research assistants), and provide
close supervision to assure that the intervention is implemented with
characteristics of the participants are well defined so that other
subject variables do not influence the results of the research. For
example, in practice settings, students in special education often have
other conditions that can potentially impact the outcomes of research.
Students with learning disabilities may also be labeled as depressed so
it is difficult to evaluate the impact of an intervention if the
student has two presenting issues. If an intervention is designed to
impact some aspect of the learning disability then depression has to be
selected out so that it does not make the results more ambiguous.
research often has a relatively small number of participants. Because
the objective of efficacy research is finding a causal link between an
intervention and impact on behavior it does not make a great deal of
sense to spend scarce resources on interventions that have not yet
demonstrated their impact.
trained change agents are used in efficacy research. They assure that
the intervention is implemented as designed so the results can be
attributed to the intervention as it was designed and not some
unspecified modification. The usual candidates for change agents at
this level of research are graduate students and research assistants.
addition to having highly qualified change agents, there is usually
very close supervision of the change agents to assure that the
intervention is implemented as designed. Any unsystematic changes in
the intervention make it difficult to interpret the results and make
claims about the role of the intervention.
of the major limitations of efficacy research is that it is often
difficult to directly translate the research to practice settings.
Practitioners often see efficacy research as being irrelevant,
impractical, and impossible.
may see the research as irrelevant because it is done in settings that
are very different than “real world” settings, and the participants are
very different than the students of concern in these “real world”
research is often viewed as impractical because of the level of
training required to implement the intervention. Teachers working in
public school settings may not receive the necessary training to
implement these interventions. As with many professions, teacher
training often reflects the biases of the faculty of the training
institution. Skills valued by the training institution may be very
different than the skills required for a specific intervention.
Instructional assistants, who have minimal formal training, carry out
much of the work with students in special education. Finally, efficacy
research is considered impractical because the resources necessary to
supervise proper implementation are not available.
practitioners consider efficacy research to be impossible because the
necessary resources -- fiscal, curriculum, and staffing resources --
are not available and are not likely to become available for an
intervention validated under laboratory conditions that are very
different from the realities of special- education, school-based
research is the most common type of research published in professional
journals. The question becomes why is there so much efficacy research
if the larger educational community does not value it? The answer to
this question lies in who does research in this country (US) and how
that research is funded.
Faculty members at universities and
colleges, who are under pressure to achieve tenure, primarily conduct
research. The primary mechanism for achieving tenure is a record of
high productivity that is largely measured by publication rates. It is
easier to accomplish high publication rates if each individual study is
relatively short. Typically, efficacy research requires less time and
less effort than larger scale effectiveness research.
reason that efficacy research is more common is that, often, graduate
students are doing the research to complete degree requirements. As a
consequence, the studies are relatively brief so the students can
advance through their training programs.
A third reason that
efficacy research is so common is that much of the research is funded
by government grants. These grants typically have three-year funding
cycles. With such short cycles it is much easier to complete efficacy
research than effectiveness research, which often requires much longer
time frames to complete.
research plays a very important role in the development of effective
interventions. One of the primary functions of efficacy research is to
identify practices that are promising. This can best be accomplished by
conducting the research under highly controlled conditions so that the
impact of the intervention can be evaluated easily. In less structured
settings, the impact of the intervention may be constrained by factors
that are unrelated to the intervention. If the intervention is
evaluated in less controlled settings then promising interventions
might be dismissed because of the effects of these extraneous
A second value of efficacy research is that it
allows the researcher to study the mechanisms that account for an
intervention’s impact. For example, a researcher may, in the
development of an instructional program, systematically vary the amount
of feedback that a student receives about performance. The researcher
can then evaluate the impact of feedback on the instructional task. The
differences in performance related to teacher feedback can be
attributed to reinforcement effects and an appropriate level of
reinforcement for maximum impact can be determined. By understanding
the basic mechanisms that are operating within an intervention, it can
be modified in particular ways to meet the requirements of a specific
circumstance without compromising its effectiveness.