Australia’s national education evidence body

“But that would never work here” – does context matter more than evidence?

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on LinkedIn Share via email
Three adults writing notes on whiteboard in a classroom.

Nobody knows more about students’ learning needs than their teachers. Teachers routinely bring their knowledge of context to their planning for their students’ learning. So how should teachers respond to research evidence about effective practice that is broad and does not appear to take account of contextual factors?  Teachers may wonder “will this make a difference for my students?”

To make things more challenging, there is sometimes a perceived competition between research evidence and context when it comes to education. The two can be pitted as opponents, resulting in some evidence-based practices being dismissed as “not relevant” or “unlikely to work” due to contextual factors. 

At the Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO), we believe research evidence and context are important teammates. A recent report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) explores how knowledge about context should work together with external research evidence to inform decision-making.

‘Evidence-based practices’ are backed up by research evidence. This means there is broad consensus from rigorously conducted evaluations that they work (see AERO’s Standards of evidence).

At AERO, we conducted an evidence review on whether context influences the effectiveness of 3 well-established, evidence-based teaching practices – and if so, how. Specifically, we examined meta-analytic reviews of the effect of formative assessment, explicit instruction and mastery learning on student achievement. 

The reviews found that formative assessment, mastery learning and explicit instruction are effective teaching practices across a variety of contexts and for different subgroups of students. Studies conducted across various locations provided the following insights.

Formative assessment:

  • has a positive impact on student achievement in mathematics, reading, writing, social science and foreign languages
  • works for primary and secondary students
  • benefits students with and without additional learning needs.

Explicit instruction:

  • has a positive impact on student achievement in mathematics, reading, spelling, problem solving and science
  • works for primary and secondary students
  • benefits students with and without additional learning needs.

Mastery learning:

  • has a positive impact on achievement in mathematics, sciences, social studies and English and foreign languages
  • works for primary and secondary students
  • is effective particularly for lower-achieving students, with higher-achieving students also benefitting.

These findings show that formative assessment, mastery learning and explicit instruction are likely to work in a variety of classrooms. This means they are good practices to use to ensure all students are learning.

Evidence decision-making tool

Deciding whether to try a teaching practice in a specific context can be challenging. This tool helps guide the decision-making process.

Rubrics for teachers

Using an evidence-based practice means thinking through the individual steps involved and how to implement them in a specific classroom context. AERO’s rubrics support teachers to do this by breaking down practices into steps.

Stay up to date with AERO resources

Subscribe form
Back to top