Moving Beyond the Gold Standard: Epistemological and Ontological Considerations of Research in Science Literacy

  • Donna E. AlvermannEmail author
  • Christine A. MallozziEmail author

What goes around, comes around is a maxim that seemingly applies more and more often to the current debate in the United States over what constitutes the scientific label in education research. At the time of writing this chapter, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB, 2002), which calls for, among other things, scientifically based reading methods and materials, is up for reauthorization. With it have come challenges to the federal government's role in legislating what counts as scientifically valid research through the Education Sciences Reform Act of 2002 (ESRA, 2002). The provisions of this law, at least as enacted, have effectively equated scientifically valid research to randomized controlled trials (RCT)—or what is commonly known as the Gold Standard in education research circles. Prior to the passage of ESRA, the National Research Council (NRC) in its publication Scientific Research in Education had criticized the proposed bill for attempting to mandate “a list of ‘valid’ scientific methods … [a list which] erroneously assumes that science is mechanistic and thus can be prescribed” (US NRC, 2002, p. 130). More recently, groups—such as the Knowledge Alliance (a Washington, DC, firm representing a mix of researchers and research and development centers), the American Educational Research Association, and the Software & Information Industry Association—have voiced their opposition to ESRA's definition of scientifically valid research. Perhaps not surprisingly, language in a recent House of Representatives draft of a bill to reauthorize NCLB would omit references to randomized studies. In its place, the proposal would define scientifically valid research as being “rigorous, systematic, and objective … [and] appropriate to the methods used” (Viadero, 2007, The Gold Standard section, para 6).

Whether or not this attempt to move away from the one-size-fits-all Gold Standard makes its way into reauthorized legislation is yet to be seen. In the interim (and for the purpose of this chapter), we intend to explore how methodological border crossings among researchers in language, literacy, and science education can enrich curricular conversations about teaching and learning in science classrooms. To chart this terrain, we begin by providing a cursory view of the relation of language and literacy to science teaching and learning. We then offer a window into our thinking on how Gold Standard policies have sanctioned certain kinds of research and curricular development while discouraging other types, thus potentially narrowing the range of information about science literacy practices that teachers have at their disposal. To address this situation, we examine the assumptions underlying five different dimensions or styles of doing research for the express purpose of looking for ways to open up, at least partially, what we view as an overly restrictive, one-size-fits-all approach to science literacy research in the United States.


Science Teaching Probabilistic Prediction Correspondence Theory Coherence Theory Valid Research 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Springer Science + Business Media B.V 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Language & Literacy EducationUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA

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