Blog

Your Education Road Map

Politics K-12®

ESSA. Congress. State chiefs. School spending. Elections. Education Week reporters keep watch on education policy and politics in the nation’s capital and in the states. Read more from this blog.

Every Student Succeeds Act

ESSA Guidance Issued on ‘Evidence Based’ School Improvement

By Alyson Klein — September 16, 2016 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

CLARIFIED

The Every Student Succeeds Act represents a whole new ball game when it comes to school improvement: States and districts will get to come up with interventions and turnaround strategies, as long as they have evidence to back up their approaches. That’s a big departure from the law’s predecessor, the No Child Left Behind Act.

But fixing-up long-foundering schools, and even helping struggling groups of students in otherwise good schools, is notoriously difficult work.

So what’s the best way for states and districts to approach school improvement in the ESSA era? And what does it mean for an intervention to be “evidence-based” anyway?

The U.S. Department of Education has developed guidance to help states, districts, and schools grapple with those questions. (Importantly, guidance is nonbinding, so local officials should consider this what the feds see as best practices, not a list of musts.)

Overall, the department is urging states, districts, and schools to use interventions that have a strong record of making a difference with the types of students or schools that need help, and to think deliberately at every step of the turnaround process.

The guidance urges states, districts, and schools to use interventions that have a strong record of making a difference with the types of students or schools that need help, and to think deliberately at every step of the turnaround process.

And the guidance has suggestions for better defining the evidence tiers—including the top three evidence tiers used for school improvement funds. It offers a rigorous set of criteria for what constitutes “promising,” “moderate,” and “strong” evidence that a particular intervention will work.

Importantly, interventions that would meet the department’s gold standard aren’t easy to find—states and districts would almost certainly have to look to the What Works Clearinghouse, which (luckily) has just been revamped.

The guidance includes this helpful chart on the department’s proposed process:

Here’s a little more explanation on each of those:

Identifying local needs: States and districts should do extensive outreach to communities, including pouring over data and talking to parents, teachers, and students to get a sense of where a school’s problems may stem from. They should consider whether the school, or a particular population within the school, is getting access to a fair share of resources (including good teachers).

Selecting evidence: States and districts should go with the highest level of evidence possible (i.e. “strong”) and consider whether there is evidence that a strategy has worked in the context they want it to. For instance, if a district is trying to help a school do a better job educating rural English-language learners, the best intervention should be one that’s been shown to work with that population.

Plan for implementation: That means coming up with clear goals and timelines and figuring out what resources a school needs to get its turnaround off the ground.

Examine and reflect: Schools, districts, and states should think carefully about why the intervention has worked—or hasn’t—and what needs to be tweaked. And they should make sure that the school shares what worked and what didn’t with others.

A second part of the guidance offers states and districts suggestions for setting a high bar when it comes to defining the different “tiers” of evidence (promising, moderate, and strong).

If a significant number of states and districts decide to take the department’s proposed definitions to heart, it could have

serious implications for the research community. As of right now, there aren’t a ton of interventions that meet the highest standard laid out in this guidance. And there would need to much more high-quality research on how particular interventions impact different populations. More from Sarah Sparks of Inside School Research fame.

“Sometimes when you put things in regulations, it can cause a backlash and focus people on just compliance,” said Jim Kohlmoos of Edge Consulting, who works with education groups on research-use issues. “So I’m pleased with the guidance, because ... it’s more trying to stimulate a lot of innovation and creativity as opposed to compliance.”

Michele Jolin, the founder of Results for America, a nonprofit that supports evidence-based practices in education, gave the guidance the thumbs-up in a statement.

“These guidelines will strengthen the effectiveness of education strategies by making clear what it means for a program to be evidence-based and encouraging states and school districts to use more—and better—evidence,” she said.

Bus Tour Connection

Not coincidentally, the guidance on “evidence-based interventions” comes on the last day of John B. King, Jr.'s Back-to-School bus tour.

He’ll end the day at Cohen College Prep, a charter school in New Orleans that participated in a nearly $30 million Investing in Innovation grant to New Schools for New Orleans. The grant was aimed at helping flailing schools find success by “restarting” as charters. All of the school’s graduates were accepted to college, the department said.

As most Politics K-12 readers know, i3 was aimed at helping school districts and nonprofits test out promising strategies. It has a successor program under ESSA, the Education Innovation and Research program, or EIR. The Obama administration bet big on a separate program aimed at school turnarounds—the School Improvement Grant program—which yielded mixed results and was scrapped under ESSA.

CLARIFICATION: Language in this post has been clarified to better explain the Education Department’s interpretation of the law’s evidence-based requirements for states and districts.


Follow us on Twitter at @PoliticsK12.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Every Student Succeeds Act Republicans Tell Miguel Cardona His Plan for ESSA Waivers Seems to Violate the Law
The Every Student Succeeds Act doesn't permit the education secretary to seek certain data he's asking for, the two GOP lawmakers say.
4 min read
White House press secretary Jen Psaki, left, listens as Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, center, speaks during a press briefing at the White House on March 17, 2021.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki, left, listens as Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, center, speaks during a press briefing at the White House on March 17, 2021.
Andrew Harnik/AP
Every Student Succeeds Act How Will ESSA Hold Up During COVID-19? Pandemic Tests the Law's Resilience
Lawmakers designed ESSA to limit mandates covering issues like how tests are used. Will that affect how well the law survives the pandemic?
6 min read
Every Student Succeeds Act Betsy DeVos Tells States Not to Expect Waivers From Annual Tests
The tests required by federal law are crucial to helping schools respond to the coronavirus pandemic and help vulnerable students, the education secretary said in a letter to chief state school officers.
3 min read
Every Student Succeeds Act Top DeVos Deputy: Our 'Instinct' Is to Not Give States Testing Waivers Next Year
"Accountability aside, we need to know where students are so we can address their needs," Assistant Secretary of Education Jim Blew said during remarks at the Education Writers Association's National Seminar.
3 min read