ESSA’s Evidence-Based School Improvement

center for american progressMuch will change in practice and policy as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) replaces the law, regulations, and guidance established through NCLB; but two elements of the new legislation stand out: the shift away from federal mandates toward greater state and local authority, and the emphasis on evidence-based school improvement practices. A new report from the Center for American Progress and Knowledge Alliance, Better Evidence, Better Choices, Better Schools, addresses this second element by clarifying the definition of “evidence-based” that ESSA uses, distinguishing it from the “scientifically based research” provisions of NCLB.

Veteran educators and policymakers will recall that NCLB introduced the requirement that improvement policy and practice should be grounded in “scientifically based research.” This standard brought both advances and frustration to the field. It seemed over the past decade that decision-makers were constantly hearing from researchers and experts that almost nothing works, while at the same time product and service providers were all saying that their offerings worked and were supported by scientifically based research. It was hard for policymakers and educators to make the best choices in this environment.

Entering the era of evidence-based school improvement, state education agencies are asking: Will the evidence-based policy elements of ESSA be any different, or will education product and service providers simply replace “scientifically based” with “evidence based” in their promotional materials? Will anything change for the better?

The Center for American Progress and Knowledge Alliance believe that the evidence-based provisions of ESSA are a significant advancement in promoting the use of evidence to support schools in need of improvement and to achieve better student outcomes. Briefly, the evidence-based approach encourages state and district leaders to consider multiple tiers of evidence and examine the strength of the evidence in making decisions. In contrast, scientifically based research set a very specific, narrow standard for acceptable evidence.

This report reviews the significant opportunities that ESSA offers state education agencies to use evidence to support the improvement of schools and ensure better outcomes for all students, with eight recommendations to follow in the implementation of the evidence provisions of ESSA, and a framework for how state education agencies can maximize collaborative efforts to implement evidence-based school improvement practices.

Download the full report from the Center for American Progress and Knowledge Alliance here: