Using Best Evidence Syntheses to assist in making a bigger difference for diverse learners

by Adrienne Alton-Lee


This paper has relevance for principals, aspiring principals, and leaders in all schools. It helps to clarify the background to the Ministry of Education’s Iterative Best Evidence Synthesis (BES) programme. It includes a summary of four reports that document the growing body of research evidence (from both New Zealand and international literature) about what makes a difference for diverse learners in New Zealand schools.

It also looks at which reports have particular relevance for school principals and makes practical suggestions for how school leaders might introduce findings from one of the reports, Quality Teaching for Diverse Students in Schooling: Best Evidence Synthesis (2003), to staff. As Alton-Lee notes, “How the syntheses are used (or misused) is critical to their value. Just knowing what the evidence reveals about what makes a bigger difference for learners is not sufficient.” (p.1)

The value of the syntheses is to acknowledge that evidence in itself is insufficient in making a difference. The critical factor is learning from the iterative (and newly developing) evidence about strategies and approaches taken, and responding in more effective ways in a cycle of continuous improvement.

Reflective questions

These reflective questions might guide you in your reading of this article:

  • What understandings of diversity are operating in your school?
  • To what extent do your school’s assumptions and expectations about students open up or shut down opportunities for students to learn?
  • What are you doing strategically that values and addresses diversity?
  • In what ways have you used the BES to access other sources of material that focus on quality teaching and learning?
  • Is using the BES work part of your schools’ professional learning plan? If not, how could you incorporate it?


Alton-Lee, A. (2004). Using best evidence syntheses to assist in making a bigger difference for diverse learners. Wellington: Ministry of Education.

Tags: Inclusive education

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