What Evidence Meets ESSA Standards? Department of Education Releases New Toolkit

Staff Writer

The U.S. Department of Education has released new guidance for evaluating ed tech — a move that speaks to the demand for more research around the digital tools and products in classrooms.

Earlier this month, the department’s office of educational technology published a series of one-pagers and launched a blog breaking down the four levels of evidence outlined in the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Known as the EdTech Evidence Toolkit, each of the one-pagers incudes definitions of key phrases, a list of types of evidence that meets the threshold, and case studies giving real-world examples of what each kind of research looks like.

The four tiers of evidence spelled out in ESSA — “strong,” “moderate,” “promising,” and “demonstrates a rationale” — have quickly became important to districts, and the vendors selling to them, as federal relief efforts rolled out during the pandemic required that at least 20 percent of the money given to school systems addresses learning loss through evidence-based interventions.

But despite district leaders increasingly pointing to data and evidence as a key piece of their purchasing decisions, K-12 educators who don’t have an extensive background in research are still grappling with exactly what meets the law’s expectations.

Launching the kit was a response to questions that the department was receiving from organizations and advocates, said Deputy Director Kristina Ishmael. In some cases, she said K-12 officials don’t understand what the four tiers mean, or that an approach to research known as a logic model — which falls under tier four — is generally the easiest entry point when collecting evidence.

“A lot of decision makers across school systems, and even even at the state level, are still confused by it and there needs there needs to be some more resources and support,” Ishmael said.

Tighter Budgets, New Evidence Demands?

Releasing this kind of guidance is valuable for both districts and vendors in order to get on the same page, said Karl Rectanus, cofounder and CEO of LearnPlatform, an organization that aims to help districts evaluate the use of ed-tech products.

“For too long, people have just slapped ‘evidence-based’ or ‘standards-aligned’ or some other sticker on the same thing that they’ve done,” Rectanus said. “But it hasn’t had rigor.”

Companies often equate research with a randomized control trial, which is detrimental, he said. Those types of studies — which would fall under tier one — can be expensive and time consuming. It’s important for companies to know there are other options, such as correlative or comparative studies or moderate, quasi-experimental studies with a control group, he said.

Over the next two years, Rectanus expects a “massive transition of investment into evidence-building,” for districts and states, especially as both consider what will make the cut as federal relief money runs out.

If vendors are going into a district with a logic model or another form of research ready to go, Ishmael said, “that is going to get them so much farther in a conversation with school leaders because they are constantly looking for that information, anyway.”

See the full EdTech Evidence Toolkit here.

Follow EdWeek Market Brief on Twitter @EdMarketBrief or connect with us on LinkedIn.

Image by Getty

See also: