The Evidence Support Center: Helping Educators Adopt Evidence-Based Educational Practices

Reliance on evidence-based practices—that is, implementing strategies shown to significantly improve student and school-related outcomes—can increase the likelihood that educators are making a difference in how students learn and achieve success in school. Adopting evidence-based practices has never been more important, with educators across the country at the forefront of addressing post-pandemic learning gaps and challenges created by pandemic-related school closures.

ESSA Tiers of Evidence

ESSA uses four tiers of evidence, each defined by the rigor of the methods used to study the strategy’s effectiveness; the strength and direction of the outcomes; considerations of other studies of the same strategy; and contextual information like the sample size, the number of schools involved in the study, and how closely aligned the sample and setting demographics are to the population and setting of districts looking to adopt the strategy.

Under federal law, there are several title programs that provide funding for state and local education agencies, and each requires that applicants specify plans to implement strategies with some level of evidence, as defined by the ESSA tiers of evidence.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed into law in 2015, encourages educators and policymakers to seek out strategies with the strongest possible evidence of effectiveness for students. Funding is available through ESSA for state and local education agencies to implement strategies backed by evidence. However, we must make it easier for educators to find and use innovative, evidence-based approaches to help accelerate learning, especially in the current post-pandemic environment.

Guiding Educators’ Use of Evidence Through the Evidence Support Center

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC), the go-to federal resource for information on scientific evidence of education programs, launched about 20 years ago. At the time, the focus in education was primarily on the rigor of the research design methodology, which is different from today’s focus on evidence about whether a program or intervention had a positive impact on learning. The WWC reviews the rigor of experimental and quasi-experimental studies, and the effectiveness of the interventions studied is reported for studies that meet WWC standards with or without reservations.

The WWC is essential for identifying strategy outcomes that meet the two highest evidence tiers, and for some strategy outcomes that meet tier 3 evidence due to not meeting the sample or setting criteria required to meet tiers 1 or 2. To supplement the universe of evidence by providing information on studies that either don’t qualify for WWC review, do not meet WWC standards, or are outside of the realm of WWC topics (such as mental and physical health strategies implemented in schools or strategies implemented with parents) AIR has worked with practitioners for the past five years and has recently launched the Evidence Support Center (ESC) and its companion Evidence Library. The mission of the ESC is to help educators navigate the path from evidence to practice. In school districts where additional math and reading support is needed, for example, the Evidence Library can help determine which programs demonstrate evidence of effectiveness and which are not supported by the evidence.

The mission of the ESC is to help educators navigate the path from evidence to practice.

To fulfill this mission, AIR experts have broadened the scope of curated evidence by reviewing all studies that can lead to any level of evidence under ESSA, while maintaining the rigor of the WWC standards and providing critical information to users about the resources they need to implement each strategy as intended. At the heart of the ESC is AIR’s review of individual studies, against both WWC standards (where applicable) and ESSA criteria. State and local education agencies and intermediary organizations can search for evidence-based strategies in the ESC’s Evidence Library and access infographics, webinars, videos, and other resources to help practitioners understand ESSA and how it relates to the WWC.

Recognizing the Importance of Technical Assistance and Coaching

The ESC does more than just review studies for the Evidence Library. Practitioners can attend trainings and workshops to better understand the ESSA tiers of evidence, how to make the most of existing resources, and the importance of context alignment. We work to ensure that states, districts, and schools choose strategies that are right for them and have been successful with students and schools like their own.

Learn more about AIR’s commitment to helping our partners use evidence to improve outcomes and inspire behavior change.

Visit the Evidence Support Center.

Additionally, our experts provide technical assistance and coaching to help educators use the library. This includes facilitating professional learning sessions for teachers or other staff to help them select and implement appropriate evidence-based strategies. We also organize and facilitate networked learning communities around selected evidence-based strategies.

Across all the work we do at AIR, ensuring that evidence is accessible is a key part of our commitment to creating a better, more equitable world.