New Research Review Demonstrates How ESSA Evidence Standards Can Support Investments in Expanded Learning

by Every Hour Counts

We all know the power expanded learning programs can have to improve the lives of students and positively impact communities. A report commissioned by The Wallace Foundation provides support for efforts to fund expanded learning programs by clearly showing how 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) programs improve student outcomes. The findings and recommendations from the March report, Afterschool Programs: A Review of Evidence Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, could be an effective guide and have exciting implications for expanded learning intermediaries and their ongoing advocacy work. The report is accompanied by a companion guide detailing the programs that meet the ESSA evidence-based definition.

Afterschool Programs Improve Student Outcomes

The report reviewed research from 2000 to 2017 and found that 124 afterschool programs have an evidence base that meets one of the top three tiers of the Every Student Succeeds Act’s (ESSA) evidence-based definition. These programs serve students across all grade levels, offering them a wide range of activities. Half of the programs showed positive impacts on students across a range of outcomes, such as math and reading/English Language Arts, physical activity/health, attendance, graduation, and social-emotional competencies. These findings are significant because they tangibly demonstrate the whole child benefits of expanded learning programs.

ESSA Called for Higher Standards of Evidence

The report includes an important overview of the evidence requirements in ESSA. As you may know, the law lays out four tiers of evidence standards:

· Tier I, strong evidence from at least one well-designed and implemented experimental study;

· Tier II, moderate evidence from at least one well-designed and implemented quasi-experimental study;

· Tier III, promising evidence from at least one well-designed and implemented correlational study with statistical controls for selection bias; and

· Tier IV, demonstrates a rationale based on high-quality research findings or positive evaluation that an activity, strategy or intervention is likely to improve student outcomes or other relevant outcomes and that the program shows ongoing efforts to examine the effects of that activity.

Understanding the evidence standards in ESSA matters to expanded learning intermediaries because some federal grant programs prioritize or require these evidence standards in their applications. For instance, the 21st CCLC program encourages providers to demonstrate evidence of effectiveness. Additionally, school improvement plans under ESSA must include evidence-based interventions. Federal funds dedicated for schools identified for improvement must be used to support at least one intervention that meets the evidence standards in Tiers I, II or III, as the report points out. Expanded learning intermediaries should know which federal programs require or encourage evidence-based interventions, and how intermediaries can meet those standards.

Providers and Policymakers Should Use Evidence and Meet the Needs of Students

Given the findings, the authors — Ruth Curran Neild, Sandra Jo Wilson and Wendy McClanahan — make recommendations to program providers and state and federal policymakers. For instance, they recommend providers: 1) use evidence as a tool to help guide program offerings and 2) consider the overall effectiveness of programs, because some programs will be effective in improving student outcomes in some areas but not others.

The report concludes that states are justified in awarding 21st CCLC funding to programs that meet ESSA evidence Tiers I through IV and that states should provide funding to providers for program evaluation in order to identify more programs that meet the higher standards of evidence. Policymakers should also encourage evaluations that cover the full range of outcomes supported by the 21st CCLC, which include academic enrichment, an array of educational services and activities, and opportunities for families of students served by community learning centers to meaningfully engage in their children’s education.

Go Out and Tell Your Story

This research review serves as a reminder to the public of the incredible value expanded learning intermediaries deliver to students and communities. It provides crucial evidence that after-school programs are not only able to meet the evidence definitions in ESSA, but they are also improving a wide range of student outcomes, including academic achievement. Every Hour Counts encourages expanded learning intermediaries to familiarize themselves with ESSA’s evidence standards, the results of the report showing that after-school programs can meet the Tier I, II and III standards and improve student outcomes, and act upon the recommendations laid out.

Beyond meeting standards for funding, evidence is a crucial component of advocacy. Lawmakers want to understand how expanded learning programs are serving their communities and improving outcomes. The ability to demonstrate evidence of effectiveness helps intermediaries tell their stories to policymaking audiences in a compelling way that demonstrates the critical role intermediaries play in improving outcomes for young people.

National Network of Cities Dedicated to Expanded Learning, Equity, & Making Learning Fun

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