Education Department Releases Guidance on Using Evidence in Education Decisions

October 2016

As states and school districts implement the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the Department of Education has issued non-regulatory guidance on various provisions of the law. In September, the department released Using Evidence to Strengthen Education Investments to assist local stakeholders in decision-making on evidence-based interventions.

The document includes a five-step decision-making model for local stakeholders to use when thinking about evidence use in education. Each of these steps—identify local needs; select relevant, evidence-based interventions; plan for implementation; implement; and examine and reflect—includes questions for local decision-makers to consider in using evidence-based interventions and evaluating their effects on student outcomes.

The department also sought to clarify the levels of evidence defined in ESSA: strong evidence, moderate evidence, promising evidence, or evidence that demonstrates a rationale. The department listed criteria for the types of studies that would meet each of the four evidence levels.

Although the language in ESSA noted that at least one study may be used as the basis for the evidence on an intervention’s effectiveness, the department encourages stakeholders to consider the entire body of evidence.

“The guidelines stick carefully to ESSA and we are pleased that they provide a more expansive definition of evidence than under No Child Left Behind,” said AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine. “At the same time, the education research community continues to encourage and promote the reliable use of data and research to inform the full range of education practice and policy including needs assessment, implementation, and performance monitoring.”

As reported in the September 2016 issue of AERA Highlights, the Institute of Education Sciences recently launched the redesigned What Works Clearinghouse as a resource for states, districts, and schools seeking rigorous studies of interventions with evidence of improving student outcomes.

Although the department guidance is non-regulatory, feedback may be submitted to