Center for American Progress

RELEASE: New CAP Report Offers a Road Map for Using Evidence-based Interventions to Improve Low-performing Schools
Press Release

RELEASE: New CAP Report Offers a Road Map for Using Evidence-based Interventions to Improve Low-performing Schools

Washington, D.C. — The Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, requires states and districts to intervene in low-performing schools using evidence-based practices. But which interventions are evidence-based and how can districts smoothly implement these practices? A new report from the Center for American Progress attempts to answer these questions, and delves into the implementation of one evidence-based approach taken in three districts: Houston, Texas; Denver, Colorado; and Lawrence, Massachusetts. This approach, which includes data-driven instruction; excellence in teaching and leadership; a culture of high expectations; frequent and intensive tutoring, also known as high-dosage tutoring; and an extended school day and year, has resulted in meaningful student achievement gains.

ESSA’s passage presents an opportunity to implement similar comprehensive, evidence-based school improvement strategies. Under the new law, states and districts are required to provide comprehensive support and improvement to the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools, high schools that fail to graduate one-third or more of their students, and schools in which subgroups perform at the same level as students in the lowest-performing schools despite local interventions.

“The Every Student Succeeds Act provides state and district leaders with an opportunity and a responsibility to implement comprehensive, evidence-based school improvement strategies,” said Tiffany Miller, Director of Education Innovation at CAP. “This report provides a resource to help other district leaders navigate the implementation of evidence-based practices under ESSA.”

“With the recent passage of ESSA, states and districts will have more freedom to determine how to improve low-performing schools,” said Chelsea Straus, Policy Analyst for the K-12 Education Policy team at CAP. “States and districts should take a closer look at their peers who have implemented evidence-based practices and experienced student achievement gains.”

“Our Apollo 20 turnaround work was exciting, rewarding, successful, and—at the same time—politically frustrating,” said Terry Grier, who recently completed a tenure of nearly seven years as the superintendent of the Houston Independent School District. “We know what to do to improve low-performing schools.  My hope is that my colleagues have the courage to do what they know: implement comprehensive reforms, even when it’s challenging.”

Studying how Houston, Denver, and Lawrence implemented evidence-based practices, the report authors found that district leaders used several key strategies when moving forward with such practices. The authors found that more planning time resulted in a smoother implementation process; that districts used school-level budgeting and strategically reallocated funds based on student needs; that district and school leaders aggressively recruited, hired, and trained innovative teachers and leaders; and that data and word-of-mouth were powerful in obtaining stakeholder investment. The authors also found that the use of these school improvement practices spread beyond just the targeted low-performing schools, to other schools in the same district.

As districts decide how to improve their low-performing schools, state and district leaders can use CAP’s report as a guide to help ensure success with their school improvement interventions. CAP’s report outlines several recommendations to leaders looking to implement evidence-based practices in their states and districts; the recommendations provide guidance for leaders with regard to overcoming barriers related to recruiting and training exemplary teachers and leaders, securing stakeholder investment, allotting sufficient planning time for the implementation of evidence-based practices, and financing the reforms. Specifically, CAP recommends that:

  • States should use the new 7 percent set-aside fund under Title I, Part A of ESSA to implement a targeted strategy focused on a subset of the lowest-performing schools, as opposed to spreading the set-aside funding among all schools that have been identified as low-performing
  • Districts should give leaders of schools identified for improvement greater autonomy over school budgets and spending
  • Districts should give school leaders hiring autonomy
  • Districts should implement intensive leadership and teacher training programs that resemble professional development provided to high-performing charter school leaders and teachers
  • District leaders should plan and conduct town halls, church events, and meetings with parents and other stakeholders to secure community investment–and buy-in–early in the turnaround.

Click here to read “Strategies to Improve Low-performing Schools Under the Every Student Succeeds Act” by Chelsea Straus and Tiffany Miller.