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New 'What Works Clearinghouse' Aims to Help Districts Find Research for ESSA

The Every Student Succeeds Act allows districts to use any strategy for school improvement, as long as there's strong evidence it works. But that's easier said than done for many leaders: Just because an intervention worked for middle class urban schools, that often doesn't guarantee it will work for poor rural English-language learners.

This morning, the Institute of EdNew What Works Clearinghouse.JPGucation Sciences rolled out a new version of its What Works Clearinghouse intended to help district and school leaders search for more specific research on programs that might work for their students.

Visitors can search for particular studies based on the characteristics of their schools, from grade span or locale to the demographics of the students.

"The trick with evidence use is you know people want to come and look for certain things that are useful to them, but you have to find a way of doing it that isn't just overwhelming on a page," said Ruth Curran Neild, the acting IES director.

For example, searching for a high school math program nets, among other things, the University of Chicago's Mathmatics Project for Algebra. The intervention snapshot highlights how many studies of the program met quality standards, but also how big an effect it had. It notes that the curriculum is used with a whole class and that of the students studied there was a higher percentage of girls than boys. 

The site also lets users search for particular practices within studies, such as summer bridge programs or repeated reading for students with disabilities.

The overhaul is meant to help meet growing demand for evidence on programs as states and districts grapple with school improvement rules under ESSA—more guidance is expected later this week—and also to respond to criticisms that the site has been difficult to use. While the clearinghouse has reviewed more than 10,000 studies in its nearly 15-year history, many do not end up meeting its rigorous quality standards. Moreover, critics have said the clearinghouse did not include enough information about program implementation to help districts make decisions about the interventions.

Joy Lesnick, the acting associate commissioner at IES in charge of the clearinghouse, said it has always had significant context data in the reports themselves, but previously users had to read each one to dig into whether a given intervention had been used on students like their own. "There are different ways of combining the information from those studies that are really like building blocks," Lesnick said. "The tool is a way to look across all that different information."

Photo: The new What Works Clearinghouse allows visitors to search for an intervention by context. Source: IES

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