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What Is an Evidence-Based Practice?

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), reauthorized in 2015 as the Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA), emphasizes—and in some instances requires—the use of evidence-based activities, strategies, and interventions to improve student outcomes. Interventions that are evidence-based fall into one of four tiers. Each is defined by the type of evidence needed to qualify an intervention as "evidence-based" for that tier.

IES' Regional Educational Laboratories program has released a video and accompanying handout (PDF; 650kb) that further explain each of ESSA's four evidence tiers.

You can also learn more by reading the ESEA itself. According to Section 8101(21)(A) of the ESEA, an evidence-based intervention is one that:

  1. "demonstrates a statistically significant effect on improving student outcomes or other relevant outcomes based on . . .
    1. strong evidence from at least one well-designed and well-implemented experimental study;
    2. moderate evidence from at least one well-designed and well-implemented quasi-experimental study;
    3. promising evidence from at least one well-designed and well-implemented correlational study with statistical controls for selection bias; or
  2. demonstrates a rationale based on . . .
    1. high-quality research findings or positive evaluation that such activity, strategy, or intervention is likely to improve student outcomes or other relevant outcomes; and
    2. includes ongoing efforts to examine the effects of such activity, strategy, or intervention."

Finally, the Department, as part of the Education General Administrative Regulations (EDGAR; see 34 CFR 77.1), further defines "well-designed and well-implemented" experimental, quasi-experimental, and correlational studies as part of its definitions of strong, moderate, and promising evidence.

Note: Some ESEA programs, including school improvement programs described in Section 6303 of the ESEA, allow evidence-based programs at the strong, moderate, or promising levels only. For more information, see Section 8101(21)(B) of the ESEA.