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A "Change in Philosophy": How ESSA is Asking Education Decisionmakers to Think Differently

December 2018

ESSA—the Every Student Succeeds Act—requires local education agencies (LEAs) to select education programs, practices, strategies, and interventions—all of which are referred to collectively in ESSA as interventions—that have evidence of effectiveness and are likely to work within their own contexts. State education agencies (SEAs) are tasked with creating plans that support local decisionmaking and build LEAs’ capacity to use data and evidence in their selection processes.

ESSA identifies four tiers of evidence strength: strong, moderate, promising, and “demonstrates a rationale.” Identifying where an intervention falls on these tiers can be a daunting task for SEAs and LEAs. The unique school and district conditions, the shifting needs of students, and many other factors only add to the challenge of selecting an appropriate evidence-based intervention. In light of these challenges, many SEAs are providing LEAs with guidance and tools for selecting interventions. Further, many SEAs would like to provide support to LEAs so they can gather and analyze data after an intervention is implemented to determine if it is working in the local context. This data collection can also help districts evaluate the effectiveness of interventions selected under “demonstrates a rationale,” which is a requirement under ESSA.

REL West is providing support to SEAs through training and coaching focused on building their own staff capacity for understanding ESSA evidence levels so that they in turn can support LEAs to choose interventions that meet the evidence standards. Drawing from Evidence-Based Improvement: A Guide for States to Strengthen Their Frameworks and Supports Aligned to the Evidence Requirements of ESSA, REL West walks SEA leaders through a series of exercises to help them determine their role in supporting LEAs to choose evidence-based interventions.

Arizona jumped into ESSA implementation in the summer of 2017. At that time, the state worked with districts to help them gather evidence on the early literacy interventions they were already implementing. Over time, districts are required to implement literacy programs that meet a higher evidence threshold and to collect data on the reading interventions in their own districts to assure they are working in their specific contexts.

Listen to an audio interview with Sean Ross of the Arizona Department of Education to learn more about how education leaders in his state are crafting systems and supports to help LEAs meet evidence standards in selecting interventions in literacy and, in the process, strengthening relationships between the state and districts in a shared commitment to implementing evidence-based interventions.

Audio Interview