New Report Provides Education Leaders with School Interventions that Work

As state, district, and school leaders begin work under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to identify and intervene in low-performing schools and among under-achieving groups of students, a new report by the Alliance for Excellent Education offers action steps and research-backed solutions to guide their work.

The report, School Interventions That Work: Targeted Support for Low-Performing Students, breaks out key steps in the identification and improvement process, focusing on (1) a diagnosis of school needs; (2) a plan to improve schools; and (3) evidenced-based interventions that work.

The diagnosis of school needs, known as a school needs assessment, contains four key elements:

  1. An organized display of data that combines students’ academic performance with school climate indicators
  2. An understanding of what’s going on inside the numbers—provided by additional descriptors such as diagnostic, formative, and interim assessment data
  3. A theory of action for data collection around what teachers are teaching and how effectively they are teaching it
  4. An analysis of adult actions and student results that represents the school’s best effort to link specific adult behaviors to specific problematic student academic outcomes

When a needs assessment is done effectively, school districts, with possible assistance from states, can match research-based interventions to a low-performing school’s most critical challenges. Action steps for districts to take include reviewing literature to find relevant, research-based strategies to address the weaknesses that showed up in the data and examining how similar states or districts implemented solutions to tackle similar challenges.

The report also offers resources for evidence-based solutions such as the Best Evidence Encyclopedia’s “Evidence for ESSA” tool and the U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse. It lists a series of studies showing robust, multi-year demonstrations of successful interventions for English language learners and students with disabilities.

In the interest of acting quickly, education leaders may be tempted to adopt a school improvement plan (SIP) without undertaking needs assessments, but the report advises against it.

“Without an exacting, detailed self-assessment, a check by an external visiting team, and the careful matching of strongly researched interventions to the specific identified needs of schools, SIPs will capture best intentions but will fail to improve student learning,” the report warns.

School Interventions That Work is available at