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How can states equip school districts to adopt evidence-based interventions?

How school districts adopt evidence-based interventions

By Meredith Lukow
February 5, 2018

Challenge: New requirements for districts to incorporate evidence in education

The passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015 changed how the education system supports low-performing schools. Previously, states provided direct support to struggling schools. ESSA, however, places more responsibility on districts by requiring them to select evidence-based interventions—which can take the form of programs, policies, or practices—to help these schools improve. But how will districts know which programs meet this standard?

This poses a particular challenge for states and districts as they start to implement their ESSA plans. As Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest Senior Technical Assistance Consultant David English notes, “The idea of districts across the country digging into research is tough. They need help with this.” Ohio has an even more immediate need to identify evidence-based interventions because it is one of 11 states that was awarded a U.S. Department of Education Striving Readers grant, which helps states create comprehensive literacy programs. This year, districts in these states will apply for funding to support their own literacy programs. These applications must show how the districts’ proposed interventions—aimed at improving literacy for their lowest-performing groups—meet ESSA’s evidence standards.

Potential solution: A state-based clearinghouse of approved evidence-based programs

With help from researchers at REL Midwest, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) is working to fill this knowledge gap among district staff. In the immediate term, ODE is creating tools to help districts identify evidence-based reading interventions for their Striving Readers applications. Over the longer term, ODE is planning to compile a larger clearinghouse of evidence-based interventions that districts can use for school improvement beginning in the 2018/19 school year.

In December, English and REL Midwest Senior Researcher Lyzz Davis led a two-session crash course on evidence-based interventions for ODE staff working on this project. The first session provided an overview of the four levels of evidence defined by ESSA: strong, moderate, promising, and demonstrates a rationale. Davis then applied the criteria ESSA uses to determine levels of evidence to the standards of existing research clearinghouses. The What Works Clearinghouse and other similar bodies evaluate studies of educational interventions to determine their probable effectiveness. Davis’ comparison resulted in a crosswalk tool that allows practitioners and policymakers to determine the ESSA tier of evidence achieved by a specific intervention if it meets a particular clearinghouse evidence standard. Davis explained, “We wanted to help ODE staff leverage what’s already out there so they aren’t reinventing the wheel.”

Participants in the training said they came away with a better understanding of ESSA’s four levels of evidence and of the differences and similarities between ESSA and other research resources. ODE staff members can now use their enhanced understanding to help districts navigate the new ESSA requirements. Davis found the project rewarding as well, noting, “I really enjoyed working with our partners at ODE. Ohio’s need for help in this area and REL Midwest’s research expertise made for a perfect opportunity to build ODE’s capacity for understanding and using research.”

Next steps: Sharing resources more widely

Collaboration between REL Midwest and ODE has evolved as the project has progressed, in part because the project’s central topic represents previously uncharted territory. According to Davis, “Ohio is at the cutting edge of work on ESSA tiers of evidence and providing districts with the information they need to follow the law.” Moving forward, ODE and REL Midwest are exploring how to share this information with districts and education service centers—Ohio’s regional education agencies. Davis explained, “ODE is being proactive about getting the right information out to districts to make sure everyone is informed and can move forward with accurate information. Misinformation could send a lot of people off track.”

The crosswalk [200 KB PDF icon ] that REL Midwest produced is now available as a public resource that anyone can use. This will be valuable not only to Ohio, but to all states as they support districts in implementing ESSA’s requirements.

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Author(s) Information

Meredith Lukow Picture

Meredith Lukow

Communications Associate | REL Midwest


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