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The importance of specifying and studying causal mechanisms in school-based randomised controlled trials: lessons from two studies of cross-age peer tutoring

Morris, SP and Edovald, T and Lloyd, C and Kiss, Z (2016) The importance of specifying and studying causal mechanisms in school-based randomised controlled trials: lessons from two studies of cross-age peer tutoring. Educational Research and Evaluation, 22 (7-8). pp. 422-439. ISSN 1380-3611

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Abstract

Based on the experience of evaluating 2 cross-age peer-tutoring interventions, we argue that researchers need to pay greater attention to causal mechanisms within the context of school-based randomised controlled trials. Without studying mechanisms, researchers are less able to explain the underlying causal processes that give rise to results from randomised controlled trials. Studying implementation fidelity is necessary but not sufficient for causal explanation; the study of causal mechanisms through the application of mixed methods is also required. Due to the increasingly complicated nature of many classroom-based innovations that are subject to evaluation, and the potentially distal nature of hypothesised effects, particularly on attainment, programme theory and articulation of mechanisms are essential in enhancing causal explanation and promoting the accumulation of knowledge of what works and why in classroom settings.

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