New Guide Helps Schools Improve With Evidence-Based Interventions

Posted November 29, 2016, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a bipartisan reauthorization of the longstanding federal commitment to equality of opportunity for all students, provides states and localities with flexible resources for evidence-based interventions in schools in need of significant improvement. Under ESSA, the State Education Agencies (SEAs) are tasked with ensuring that Local Education Agencies (LEAs) are selecting and implementing proven interventions that provide students attending struggling schools with the best opportunity for achievement.

To assist SEAs in turning around schools requiring comprehensive or targeted support, the Florida Center for Reading Research at Florida State University recently released An SEA Guide for Identifying Evidence-Based Interventions for School Improvement, funded by the William T. Grant Foundation, the Overdeck Family Foundation and the Casey Foundation.

Casey’s support for the guide reflects the Foundation’s commitment to investing in programs proven to work for vulnerable children and to encouraging public funding of evidence-based approaches that support kids’ healthy development. “All students deserve to attend schools that work,” says Ilene Berman, a senior associate at the Casey Foundation. “With this guide, we offer education leaders information and guidance to apply evidence of what works to turn around struggling schools.”

The guide helps SEAs conduct self-studies for:

  • evaluating the evidence base for school-improvement interventions in such areas as implementing systemic change, establishing strong leadership and improving academic instruction;
  • selecting interventions that not only have a strong evidence base but also address the root causes of underperformance in local schools; and
  • assisting LEAs in choosing the best evidence-based options for schools in need of comprehensive or targeted support.

The process of self-study requires an investment of time, but the results of collaboration among agency officials and a variety of stakeholders can be invaluable. The SEA Guide contains tools that equip a self-study team to engage in thoughtful investigations and discussions that inform decision making. To help team members collect research on evidence-based interventions, the guide suggests a broad range of databases, websites and other resources.

For evaluating research on school-improvement interventions, typically one of the most challenging tasks for SEAs, the guide provides both general guidance for determining the four levels of evidence recognized by ESSA and a number of resources to assess the rigor of school-improvement programs — for example, the Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development database and the What Works Clearinghouse.

In addition to checklists for facilitators and team members, scoring templates and planning forms, the guide includes an annotated bibliography,as well as a description of a theory of action (to help educators consider the rationale behind their choice of interventions) and an example of a logic model (to help plan and monitor evaluations of interventions).

Complementing the 90-page guide is an abbreviated SEA Quick-Start Guide for Identifying Evidence-Based Interventions for School Improvement, which allows state agencies to begin the self-study process right away. A version of the guide for LEAs will be available soon.