Understanding the ESSA Tiers of Evidence


Each year, school and district
leaders across the country choose programs, strategies, practices and policies to improve students’ learning. Although districts and schools
have flexibility to choose interventions under the Every Student
Succeeds Act, or ESSA, and states’ definitions of the
ESSA standards may differ, the law encourages school and district
leaders to choose evidence-based interventions shown
to improve student outcomes. By choosing interventions that
have been rigorously studied and shown to improve student learning,
district and school leaders increase the likelihood that student
achievement will improve. When applying for Federal funding and some state-sponsored grants, it’s important
to be aware of how the Federal Government and
states define the evidence tiers and where to find the information
necessary to determine them. ESSA uses four tiers of evidence to rate an intervention’s potential
effectiveness on improving student outcomes in
a school or district. Tier 1: Strong Evidence. Tier 2: Moderate Evidence. Tier 3: Promising Evidence. Tier 4: Demonstrates a Rationale. A further explanation of these
tiers and their definitions can be found in the US Department
of Education’s non-regulatory guidance released
in 2016. When determining the evidence tier
rating of an intervention for your school or district, there
are five factors to consider. One, the study design. Two, the results of the study. Three, the findings from related studies. Four, the sample size and setting. And five, how the students and
setting in the study overlap with the students and setting in
your school or district. Because of the fifth factor, the
evidence tier rating of the intervention can change
from district to district and from school to school. Finding the information necessary
to rate an intervention according to the ESSA tiers of
evidence is simple. The What Works Clearinghouse, a
Federally-funded database of education interventions supplies
related study results, along with ESSA ratings, for outcomes
meeting Tiers 1 and 2, sample size and setting information
all in one place. For an intervention’s outcomes
to be rated Tier 1, or as having Strong Evidence by
a district or school, it must: be supported by one or
more well-designed, well-implemented, experimental
studies, meeting the What Works Clearinghouse standards
without reservations; have strong and positive findings
of the intervention; have no strong negative findings
from other well-designed studies; have at least 350 participants
in the study sample; and have been measured in more
than one school or district; and have a similar population and setting to that of the district that is
considering the intervention. For an intervention’s outcomes
to be rated Tier 2, or as having Moderate Evidence
by a district or school, it must: be supported by one or
more well-designed, well-implemented, quasi-experimental studies, or experimental studies with high attrition, meeting the What Works Clearinghouse
standards with reservations; have strong and positive findings
of the intervention; have no strong negative findings
from other well-designed studies; have at least 350 participants
in the study sample and have been measured in more
than one school or district; and have a similar population or setting to that of the district that is
considering the intervention. While the What Works Clearinghouse
does not currently designate outcomes as meeting Tiers 3 or
4, users can find this information in the Clearinghouse using the
following criteria. For an intervention’s outcome to
be rated Tier 3, or as having Promising Evidence
by a district or school, it must be supported by one or
more well-designed, well-implemented, correlational
study that controls for selection bias, or a well-designed
causal study; have strong and positive findings
of the intervention; have no strong negative findings from other well-designed, casual studies. Interventions rated as Tier 3 do
not have a sample or setting requirement, and do
not have any requirement for having a similar population or setting. Tier 4, or Demonstrates a Rationale,
is a way for states, districts and schools to encourage innovation and research on promising interventions that
do not yet have a research base that meets the
ESSA standards, but may still improve student achievement. Interventions that are rated in
the Demonstrating a Rationale tier have a well-defined logic model
or theory of action supported by existing, rigorous
research, and some effort already underway by a state, district, school or research organization to determine
their effectiveness. ESSA gives priority to the use
of strong, moderate, or promising evidence in school
improvement programs and allows the use of Tier 4 evidence
in other circumstances. Check with your state’s school improvement and ESSA teams to learn more. To learn more about the ESSA tiers of evidence, check out the handout associated
with this video on our website. And visit the What Works Clearinghouse
to find reviews and ratings of existing research
on programs, products, practices and policies in education. To learn more about REL Midwest,
check out our website, follow us on Twitter, and join
us at one of our upcoming events.

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