Selecting Evidence-based Practices to Improve Schools

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires the use of evidence-based practices to improve outcomes at low-performing schools-but how can education leaders and policymakers make sure they are choosing the right ones? A new AIR guide provides concrete action steps and resources that state and district leaders can use to ensure they choose the right evidence-based practices for their students. 

The action guide offers education leaders three action steps to ensure the evidence-based practices they select meet ESSA requirements and fit their specific needs.

Action 1: Review the Data and Practices to Prioritize Improvement Areas

To choose evidence-based practices that account for their specific—and local—circumstances, leaders first should conduct a variety of needs-assessment activities, such as:

  • Completing a data review and interpretation to identify which student outcomes they want to improve
  • Conducting a root-cause analysis to identify strategies for improvement, such as adjustments to teacher instruction or supports for improving attendance
  • Creating an inventory of current practices and interventions to understand which ones address their prioritized outcomes and which ones they can scale back or end

Action 2: Explore Key Resources to Flag EBPs That Meet Evidence Requirements

Once leaders understand the gap between current practices and prioritized outcomes, they can next explore key resources and identify potential strategies that meet the evidence requirements. Examining a variety of resources, including online clearinghouses like the What Works Clearinghouse, will help identify all possible improvement strategies and evidence tiers for potential evidence-based practices. 

Action 3: Apply Other Criteria to Identify EBPs That Meet Local Priorities

After these first two actions are completed, leaders can be confident that their chosen practice is backed by evidence showing a positive impact on their student outcomes goals. However, to ensure that the practice has a higher chance of producing positive results, leaders should consider regional or local priorities.

Some questions leaders might ask include:

  • Are there enough staff to enact a particular practice?
  • Is there enough funding to see it through to the end?
  • Does the practice fit community values?
  • Can results be measured formatively and summatively?

For the action guide, see:

For a very helpful list of key resources for doing this work, see: