Evidence-based Interventions in ESSA Comprehensive Plans
Many states are currently in the process of writing, revising and perfecting their Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) comprehensive plans. The importance of these plans cannot be understated as they will provide the groundwork for the state-level administration of all federal elementary and secondary education programs starting in the 2017-18 academic year. The Act has paved the way for this as it gives flexibility to the states to propose their own plans for implementing high-quality academic standards, assessment and accountability systems, and school improvement activities with federal funding.
The projected amount of federal funding through ESSA is a combined $100.3 billion from 2017 to 2020, including approximately $66.8 billion of Title I funding, which is the primary federal funding vehicle for the improvement of failing schools. The amount of Title I funding has increased dramatically under ESSA. In addition, states are now required to allocate at least 7% of their total Title I budget to school support and improvement grants. Over $4.3 billion in total will be allocated to these types of grants nationwide, and will be used to improve the lowest-performing schools in the nation.
Although increasing funding for failing schools is an essential step toward school improvement, chronically failing schools cannot improve simply through budgetary increases. The additional funding ESSA provides for school support and improvement grants must be used to fund intervention methods with a proven track record of success, such as evidence-based intervention models. A significant body of education research has emerged proving that evidence-based intervention models are remarkably effective for turning around a failing school. ESSA defines evidence-based intervention models as ones that demonstrate “a statistically significant effect on improving student outcomes or other relevant outcomes” based on empirical research. While not the only ESSA-approved intervention, evidence-based models rely on focused implementation and consistently lead to lasting improvement. Because of their proven effectiveness, we believe that evidence-based instructional practices are the future of public education in the United States, and, in most cases, the most effective method for turning around a chronically failing school.
Early drafts of state ESSA comprehensive plans have already begun incorporating evidence-based practices. For example, Arizona plans to implement evidence-based academic interventions grounded in student achievement data, as well as interventions around alternatives to suspension, school culture and climate, and school wellness. Similarly, Illinois’ plan calls for implementation of evidence-based practices “for improved academic, social, emotional, behavioral, and physical student outcomes,” specifically citing interventions such as differentiated instruction and culturally and linguistically appropriate standards and supports. These are only two examples of the many states that are taking advantage of the unique opportunity afforded by ESSA to implement evidence-based policies. ESSA encourages states to solicit input on their comprehensive plans from everyone with a stake in public education, including State Education Agencies, Local Education Agencies, district superintendents, school principals, teachers, community and business leaders, legislators, and parents.
In creating these comprehensive plans, it is essential that states explicitly prioritize the most effective evidence-based models identified by educational research. Otherwise, they risk reverting to the weakly-supported strategies that experience has shown to be ineffective. States would do well to carefully evaluate meta-analyses and RCT (Randomized Controlled Trial) research on student achievement—Robinson and Hattie provide good starting points—and then focus relentlessly on ensuring deep implementation of their prioritized evidence-based models. The ability of each state to capitalize on the landmark opportunities afforded by ESSA will depend largely on the expectations they set for evidence-based interventions.