Navigating the Every Student Succeeds Act: The Evidence Movement

We have more data available in education – and across all areas of society – than ever before and it’s safe to say we are part of an Evidence Movement. Education think tanks are proliferating and ESSA has clearly defined "evidence" for the first time. As decision makers, you have a multitude of options for staying up to date on what's new in our field. And at HMH we are working to ensure that you have the clarity and evidence you need to meet federal mandates and most importantly to meet the needs of your students.

Not all education evidence is equal, nor does evidence apply in the same way to all learners. A recent cover story in Time magazine—on the topic of dieting—illustrates the complexity of applying research in a variety of situations. The story’s major finding is that no single diet will work for everyone.

ESSA helps us sort out what works for whom in education and the level of research required to comply with various federal programs. To reiterate from one of my previous posts, here are the ESSA research levels by which districts are being asked to measure their selected instructional programs:

  • Strong evidence: A well-implemented experimental (i.e., randomized) study
  • Moderate evidence: A well-implemented quasi-experimental (i.e., matched) study
  • Promising evidence: A well-implemented correlational study with statistical controls for selection bias
  • Demonstrates a rationale: A program or practice that does not yet have evidence qualifying for the top three levels, and can be considered evidence-building and under evaluation

These levels may also be useful in making educational decisions not specifically related to ESSA. Educational research provides all educators with unprecedented opportunities to make the best decisions for students, as we now have new sources of data to analyze and, thanks to advances in learning science, a better understanding of our students.

Just like in the area of healthful eating, there's a lot of information out there. In any field, there are things to look for in a study to help you determine whether a program supports your goals and is a reliable resource. You may want to use this checklist:

  •   The research question is clearly stated.
  •   The ESSA levels are readily identifiable and the methodology is described.
  •   If there are any limitations, they are shared.
  •   The number of participants ensures confidence.
  •   The participants share characteristics with your students.

At HMH we use recent research and third-party studies to continuously improve our programs and services and to report to you on student outcomes. Please add to this checklist by sharing in our comments section what matters most to you in reviewing a research report. Remember, research tells us that providing feedback is one of the most efficacious things we can do in teaching. I think it applies to all areas and I look forward to getting feedback from you!