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SPE 304 / 504: Fall 2020

Your Assignment Says...

You will need to find one research article on your topic from a scholarly/peer-reviewed journal. The article should be recently published (i.e.: no more than 5 years since publication date). You will have to use the library indexes to find these articles. The articles must be research based; a literature review is acceptable. “Think-pieces,” opinion papers, and anecdotal accounts are not acceptable. 

Before You Start: What To Know

As your assignment indicates, you need to find a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal article for this part of the assignment. 

Your professor and I also strongly recommend you look for articles that discuss evidence-based practices:

Evidence-based practices (EBPs) are instructional techniques with meaningful research supporting their effectiveness that represent critical tools in bridging the research-to-practice gap and improving student outcomes (e.g., Cook, Smith, & Tankersley, 2011; Slavin, 2002).

Why are evidence-based practices important?

One of the most critical issues in contemporary special education is the significant and persistent gap between research documenting the effectiveness of practices and the actual instruction that occurs in typical classrooms (Carnine, 1997; Cook & Schirmer, 2006). Interventions shown by reliable research to positively impact student performance are not implemented commonly in classrooms. Yet other practices shown to have little, no, or negative effects on students’ outcomes are applied frequently. For example, special education practitioners reported regularly using some practices demonstrated to be ineffective (e.g., modality instruction) but indicated implementing other practices validated by research (e.g., mnemonic strategies) relatively infrequently (Burns & Ysseldyke, 2009; see also Jones, 2009).

What's the difference between high-leverage practices and evidence-based practices?

Both are based in research, but high-leverage practices are a bit broader. McCray, Kamman, Brownell, and Robinson (2017) write:

These critical practices, also known HLPs, should be those that research has demonstrated can impact student achievement and be used across different content areas and grade levels. These HLPs should also be those that teacher candidates can learn through practice and feedback. They would form a “common core of professional knowledge and skill that can be taught to aspiring teachers across all types of programs and pathways” (Ball & Forzani, 2011, p. 19). HLPs can provide infrastructure to support effective teaching and consistent learning for every student to succeed.

In contrast, according to McCray et al. (2017), evidence-based practices (or EBPs):

...are often content focused and appropriate for students at different developmental levels. For instance, teaching students strategies for summarizing text is a powerful strategy, but the strategy is best taught in third grade and beyond.


Cook, B.G., & Cook, S.C. (2013). Unraveling evidence-based practices in special education. The Journal of Special Education, 47(2), 71-82. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022466911420877

McCray, E.D., Kamman, M., Brownell, M.T., & Robinson, S. (2017). High-leverage practices and evidence-based practices: A promising pair. Retrieved from https://ceedar.education.ufl.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/HLPs-and-EBPs-A-Promising-Pair.pdf

Where To Search

What To Search For

Obviously, you'll want to search for your specific disability or disability category. In the library databases, you can try searching for variations on the idea of "evidence-based practices." The image below shows an example of three different words and phrases that all encompass the same meaning.

Refining Your Search: Get Recent Results

Each database should have a way for you to limit your search results by date range. Here's an example of how to limit your date range in Education Source and ERIC:

Troubleshooting Your Search

If you're having problems finding an article:

  • Try searching a different database
  • Search for a specific age group (ex. early childhood education)
  • If you've selected a disability category, search for a subcategory or specific disability
    • Example: Let's say your topic is orthopedic impairment. You could search for neuromotor impairments (a subcategory) or cerebral palsy (a specific disability).
  • Search for a specific subject or type of education (ex. physical education)
  • Try searching for concepts addressed in the high-leverage practices for special education
    • Example: Let's say your topic is emotional disturbances. You might focus on some of the high-leverage practices in the social / emotional / behavioral practices section - one of which is "Teach social behaviors." So, you might search for "emotional disturbances" and "social skills instruction."

Interpreting Your Results

How can I tell if an article is research-based?

There are a number of ways you can find research articles and literature reviews:

  • Look at the journal title

    Some journals are dedicated to research studies only. If the journal title has "research" in it, then it's a good bet that most (or all) of the articles in that journal are research articles.

    If you're looking at results in Education Combo, you'll see the journal title below the article title (see the green highlighted text). There are also some research journals are listed above - like Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders.

  • Look at the article title 

    Many times the article title itself will give you a hint as to its content. You're looking for the following types of articles:

    • Research-based (an experiment or study) - These types of articles will use words like effects, analysis, examining, etc.

    • Literature review (a summary of existing research) - These types of articles will use words like systematic review, meta-analysis, review of the literature, etc.

    You can see some examples highlighted in pink in the image below. 

  • Look at the subjects - Education Combo only

    The subject terms underneath the article title often say things like "research", "qualitative research", "literature reviews", etc. If you see mentions of statistics, methodology, surveys, comparisons, etc. - these subjects generally indicate that you've found a research study.

    You can see some examples highlighted in purple in the image below. 

  • Look for tables and charts

    An article that contains tables, charts, and graphs is likely a research article. These graphics generally outline parts of the methodology (usually tables) or they are part of the analysis of the data (the charts and graphs).

    In Education Combo, they will often show you thumbnails of their charts, etc. You can see some examples highlighted in yellow below.

Screenshot of search results with various aspects highlighted

How should I read a scholarly article?

Check out our guide about how to read scholarly articles.

Found something in a works cited or references section?

Ask a Librarian