January 12, 2018Policy Report

ESSA Leverage Points: 50-State Report on Promising Practices for Using Evidence to Improve Student Outcomes

State/ Education/

Executive Summary

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) gives states, school districts, and schools new flexibility to design K-12 education systems that reflect local needs and priorities. In exchange, ESSA encourages, and in some cases requires, the use of evidence-based approaches and continuous improvement to drive improved outcomes.

In May 2017, Results for America’s Evidence in Education Lab team identified in its Leverage Points report 13 key opportunities for states to advance the use of evidence, evaluation, and continuous improvement through their implementation of ESSA. In July 2017, RFA published an initial analysis of the first 17 ESSA consolidated state plans submitted to the U.S. Department of Education (USED) that highlighted the extent to which these states propose to use the 13 leverage points to strengthen how they use evidence, evaluation, and continuous improvement.

This January 2018 report builds on our review of the 17 state plans submitted to USED in May 2017, incorporating an analysis of the remaining 34 state plans submitted in September 2017.

Here are our main findings:

  • Across all 51 state plans (50 states plus the District of Columbia), we identified 162 promising practices for building and using evidence to improve student outcomes; all but five states included at least one promising practice.
  • Eleven states described in their plans the largest number of promising practices related to the 13 ESSA evidence leverage points: New Mexico (9), Minnesota (8), Connecticut (7), Delaware (7), Iowa (7), Rhode Island (7), Tennessee (7), Indiana (6), Massachusetts (6), Ohio (6), and Oklahoma (6).
  • Only three states (Delaware, South Carolina, and Texas) described strong plans to prioritize the use of evidence and continuous improvement when exercising their authority to intervene in districts unable to improve their lowest-performing schools (Leverage Point 12); just nine states emphasized the use of evidence and continuous improvement in the design of their school improvement applications (Leverage Point 5); and only 14 states highlighted plans to base funding allocations at least in part on the proposed use of evidence (Leverage Point 4).
  • No state fully articulated a clear vision for using and building evidence outside of Title I school improvement (e.g., in ESSA Title II and Title IV), although 17 states did include promising approaches to advancing evidence-based strategies under these titles.

In general, we were encouraged by the commitments these 51 states made to using evidence to drive improved student outcomes. However, for the majority of states, there were notable gaps that deserve further attention. In the report that follows, we summarize trends across states for each of 13 key opportunities in ESSA first identified in RFA’s May 2017 Leverage Points report and spotlight those states with the most promising approaches.