State Plans Under the Every Student Succeeds Act: Where Is the Research? – by Mark Dynarski0
Recently submitted state plans for implementing the “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA) provide insight into how research is making inroads into education policy at the state level. Based on my review of a sample of plans, a fair answer is that it is not. A previous post in this series by Martin West describes how ESSA created opportunities for states to use research and evidence in ways that improve student outcomes.  Opportunities, yes—but most of what is in the plans could have been written fifteen years ago.
To date, most of the attention on submitted plans has focused on the accountability structures they propose. ESSA requires each state to specify how it will hold schools and districts responsible for meeting the state’s education goals, unlike No Child Left Behind, which specified an accountability structure that applied to all states. Other organizations are reviewing these aspects of plans.  My focus emerges from another ESSA requirement: each state has to designate at least 5 percent of its schools, and high schools with graduation rates below 67 percent, as low-performing and use “evidence-based interventions” with them.
I looked at one other aspect of plans—how they proposed to “use data to help educators be more effective.” Intervening in schools falls under a different funding stream than using data to improve educator skills (Title I for the first and Title II for the second), but both clearly involve a role for research and evidence.
Research can enter in various ways, some of which I do not focus on. For example, some plans cited statistical research to support their n-size determination (the minimum number of students in a subgroup, such as English learners, above which schools are held accountable for outcomes for that group). Some plans cited research to support their choice of a “nonacademic indicator” in their accountability structure. As has been reported elsewhere, chronic absenteeism has been a favorite choice, and research on it is cited in many plans.  Some plans cite research on early warning systems designed to flag students who may be in need of support to help them progress in school. Debates about n-size have been occurring at least since NCLB. Chronic absenteeism and early warning systems are relatively recent. 
What the plans say
Reviewing 51 plans (each between 100 and 200 pages plus appendixes) was too extensive an undertaking. Instead, I sampled 10 states with probability proportional to their 2015 K-12 student enrollment. That sampling process yielded California, Texas, Florida, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Arizona, Colorado and Alabama. The 10 states account for about half of the country’s K-12 enrollment.
Table 1 displays how state plans describe their approaches for using evidence to support low-performing schools or to use data to help educators be more effective. The text in the table mostly is from plans themselves, edited to remove acronyms and make wording more concise.
The variability in the table is noticeable. California’s plan for improving low-performing schools essentially is we got this. Ohio’s plan …read more