How to Learn What’s Working in Your Setting

National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Home Page, a part of the U.S. Department of EducationThe Regional Educational Laboratories Program has released a new video series that explains how schools, districts, states, and their research partners can use a cost-effective approach, known as “opportunistic experiments,” to test the effectiveness of programs. Under the right circumstances, this type of research study can generate evidence for informing your education decisions.

What is an Opportunistic Experiment? An opportunity to randomly assign participants to an intervention when one or more of the following conditions exist:

  • Excess demand (for example, over-enrollment in a district program or school)
  • Limited resources (for example, a lack of resources to implement a new program in all schools at once)
  • Pilot tests (for example, a need to test a new program at a few schools before using it in all schools)

There are four videos in the series:

  1. Embedding Evaluations in Everyday Activities (1 minute) – This introductory video gives an overview of the video series.
  2. Why Use Experiments to Evaluate Programs? (6 minutes) – Describes why you might want to use experiments to evaluate your programs and policies. It shows why experiments are valuable tools for learning what works.
  3. Recognizing Opportunities for Rigorous Evaluation (8 minutes) – Describes key characteristics of opportunistic experiments and provides examples and suggestions of situations where you may be able to conduct such experiments.
  4. Addressing Challenges and Concerns about Opportunistic Experiments (coming soon!) – Will outline considerations that may reduce concerns about using experiments to learn what works.

This video series is based on two guides to opportunistic experiments—a guide designed for district and school leaders and a guide designed for researchers, both linked below.

Guide for School Districts:

Guide for Researchers: