Written and compiled by Regional Educational Laboratory West (REL West). 

In the West Region and beyond, educators are searching for evidence-based programs as required by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). REL West, in collaboration with the other nine RELs, developed two new tools to support education decisionmakers as they build their own and others’ knowledge about the evidence requirements and consider research alongside local contexts to select appropriate interventions.

Given the current challenges districts and schools are facing with COVID-19 and a quick switch to distance learning, these tools can help districts and schools determine if an approach is evidence-based and what ESSA level of evidence it meets. In particular, the Accessing & Assessing Research and Evidence tool can be helpful when trying to find a new evidence-based online or distance learning option. The Applicability of Evidence-Based Information tool can be helpful when considering how to transition existing approaches to an online environment or if a district or school is looking to implement a new evidence-based distance or online learning option.

Accessing & Assessing Research and Evidence

User Scenario: An urban district is looking to transition their math curriculum to an online option that aligns with ESSA evidence standards. The district math director is interested in learning more about ESSA evidence standards and resources to find evidence-based strategies.

This clickable guide provides a curated list of resources related to accessing and assessing evidence and research. Organized around six questions (such as “How can I use the What Works Clearinghouse to determine ESSA evidence tiers of an intervention?”), the document links to lists of related resources for each question. It is intended to provide a one-stop shop for state education agency staff and technical assistance providers to build their knowledge and understanding about the ESSA evidence provisions and in turn support districts with their ESSA-related needs.

Applicability of Evidence-Based Information

User Scenario: A small rural school is looking to potentially use an evidence-based distance learning program that a nearby school is using. The principal wants to think about how well the program might fit her school’s context.

This tool provides a set of seven considerations to determine if an intervention is suited to one’s local context. It will help those tasked with selecting evidence-based programs or strategies, especially those serving rural, small, and Native-serving schools that historically have not been included in education research, to screen research and determine applicability to their settings. It encourages educators to look more deeply at research evidence and interventions that could meet their needs.

Additional Considerations for Distance Learning

There are three contextual considerations in this tool that are especially relevant in the current climate: access to technology and connectivity; potential for family engagement; and professional development. In addition to these three considerations, additional questions you may consider when considering an evidence-based strategy for online or distance learning include:

  • How well-aligned is this online/distance learning option with our current curriculum? With our state standards?
  • What supports will teachers need to provide to students to be able to use this online/distance learning option?
  • When school resumes, would we continue to use this online/distance learning option in some capacity
  • Does that change how valuable we think the option is now?
  • How quickly could we get this online/distance learning option up and running? How would we roll it out to students?

More ESSA Resources

Click on the titles below to access the resources.

WestEd Evidence-Based Improvement Guide
This guide provides an initial set of tools to help states and school districts understand and plan for implementing evidence-based strategies.

Video: Defining Your Approach to Implementing ESSA Evidence Standards
This interactive REL West video is designed to help SEAs and their partners define their specific approach to supporting LEAs as they identify and implement evidence-based practices. Follow along with the facilitator guide.

Blog and Audio Interview: How ESSA is Asking Education Decisionmakers to Think Differently
Learn about the evidence levels defined by ESSA and how leaders in Arizona are using them as a framework for guiding LEAs in their selection of literacy programs.

Video: Understanding the ESSA tiers of evidence
Watch this video from REL Midwest to learn about the four tiers of evidence as outlined in ESSA and how schools and districts can use them to rate an intervention’s potential effectiveness on improving student outcomes.

Presentation Slides and Handouts: Identifying Evidence-Based Interventions According to ESSA
Download materials from a REL Southeast training for state and local education agencies on facilitating discussions about the evidence base for interventions that local education agencies might deem appropriate for school-turnaround efforts.

CCSSO Report: State Responsibilities and Opportunities for School Improvement Under the Every Student Succeeds Act
This report organizes SEA responsibility related to ESSA school improvement into seven domains, providing examples and resources for each domain.


REL West provides research, analytic support, and resources designed to increase the use of quality data and evidence in education decision-making in Arizona, California, Nevada, and Utah.