New ESSA Legislation Places Evidence-based Reform Front and Center

By Dr. Stephanie Wood-Garnett

ISA President


With the December 10, 2015 passage of the nation’s new education legislation, the Every Student Succeeds Act  (ESSA), evidence-based reform is exactly where it should be—front and center on the national agenda.

ESSA, which replaces the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), puts important emphasis on improving the quality of low-performing schools. Under ESSA, accountability and support are provided to the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools, high schools that graduate less than 67 percent of their students, and schools in which traditionally underserved students are consistently underperforming.  ESSA further requires (provides funds for) schools and districts to implement evidence-based solutions for school improvement. Unlike NCLB, which imposed one-size-fits-all federal solutions, ESSA empowers states and local decision makers to develop or choose which evidence-based school improvement solutions to implement.

Evidence-based educational interventions, programs and practices are those that have been specifically proven—through rigorous and scientifically based research—to be effective. ESSA avoids one of the major pitfalls to identifying effective educational practices—the use of poor quality, contradictory, or incomplete evidence. “Too often, we fund programs with little to show in the way of results,” said Senator Orrin Hatch about the new education bill.  “More of our federal dollars should work to encourage innovative programs and practices that can demonstrate significant education outcomes.

ISA is the only federally approved evidence-based high school whole school reform provider in the nation. ISA received this designation because ISA’s approach has been proven through scientifically based and independent evaluations to be effective in significantly improving student outcomes, and because this evidence of ISA’s  effectiveness was reviewed and validated by the What Works Clearinghouse.

Evidence-based whole school reform models,” said ISA President Gerry House, “provide clear, proven methods to close the gap between research and practice.”  Respected educator and author James Kauffman points out that many practices shown by research to be effective are infrequently used in classrooms, whereas teachers often utilize practices that have been shown to have little or no positive impact on student performance.  There is a large and credible body of research that affirms the relationship between effective teaching practices and student achievement levels.  This research further verifies that some teaching practices reliably produce higher student outcomes than others and what and how teachers instruct students matter.

ISA’s evidence-based whole school reform model is designed with this body of research as its foundation.  The ISA model has proven that working in partnership with local school leaders and teachers, the culture, instructional and operational practices, relationships among all stakeholders, school-collaboration and dissemination of what works, student and family support structures, and the quality of relationships among all stakeholders can be positively impacted to intentionally support and sustain increased achievement levels for all students.  The pathways that schools can take to eliminate unnecessary guesswork and the resultant and inevitable failure around teaching and learning are clearly marked by research.  “To change the life trajectories for tens of thousands of students,” stresses Gerry House,  “we have only to demonstrate the will to take these evidence-based roads that are too infrequently traveled.”