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District Designed and Led Improvement Strategies



The District Designed and Led (DDL) route of the Empowering Action for School Improvement (EASI) application encourages to initiate and expand supports for schools in need of improvement. This route is a good fit for districts and their schools that have invested in a comprehensive needs assessment, solid planning, and are ready for implementation – or that have seen positive results and would like to expand programming.


To be awarded funds under this application, proposals must demonstrate that the LEA and school(s) are building from established processes for the cross-cutting elements, including stakeholder engagement, improvement planning, use of evidence-based interventions (EBI), evaluation, and reporting.

Stakeholder Involvement. State and federal expectations highlight the importance of stakeholder engagement (e.g., building leadership, teachers, parents, local board) throughout the school improvement process. Schools identified under ESSA (i.e., Comprehensive, Targeted) and under the state accountability system (i.e., Priority Improvement, Turnaround) have specific requirements that serve as a common foundation to build from, such as the state expectation that school accountability committees provide feedback on school plans. For this route, applications should address how stakeholders will be involved in the proposed activities in meaningful and relevant ways.

Improvement Planning. Improvement plans are one of the tangible ways that districts and schools document their intention for improving outcomes for students. LEAs applying for this route will need to show evidence of strong plans already in place and be explicit about how planning requirements will be documented for the overall district and participating schools (e.g., timelines, LEA review process). If awarded, the plans will serve as an important part of the grant accountability process. The Unified Improvement Plan (UIP) provides a convenient mechanism for capturing progress for EASI, as well as specific state and ESSA requirements.

Evidence-Based Interventions. ESSA defines an evidence-based intervention as an activity, strategy, or intervention that demonstrates a statistically significant effect on improving student outcomes or other relevant outcomes.

Evidence Level Study Design 
(1) Strong Evidence

Supported by an experimental or randomized control trial (RTC) study.

Experimental or RCT studies divide participants randomly into separate groups to measure the causal impact of an intervention on the “experiment” group compared to the “control” group. The experiment group receives the intervention, whereas the control group receives status-quo supports or another intervention. 

(2) Moderate Evidence

Supported by at least one quasi-experimental study. 

Quasi-experimental studies also divide study participants into “experiment” and “control” groups, but they are not randomly assigned, often times due to ethical or practical constraints. However, through careful planning and rigorous data analysis, inferences can still be made about the causal effect of an intervention.
(3) Promising Evidence

Supported by at least one correlational study with statistical controls for selection bias.

Correlational studies are conducted to identify non-causal associations or relationship between variables, such as whether participation in an intervention is associated with improved academic outcomes. 
(4) Evidence that Demonstrates a Rationale

Supported by relevant research or an evaluation which suggests that the intervention is likely to improve a student outcome or other relevant outcome.

Level 4 evidence provides LEAs with flexibility to develop or select new, promising approaches that are not yet supported by high-quality research on long-term impact.

ESSA requires the use of at least one Level 1-3 EBI where Title I, Section 1003 school improvement funds are used. This requirement applies to District Designed and Led (DDL) initiatives supported by ESSA school improvement funds.

If the application includes reading interventions in early elementary grades, more rigorous standards of the READ Act must be met. For more information, see the READ Act website for additional information.

For more information on ESSA levels of evidence, tips and resources to explore evidence strength and consider local context when selecting EBIs, please visit Evidence-Based Interventions (EBIs) web page.


For LEAs that applied for a District Designed and Led initiative, it is possible to expand those activities.  The chart below delineates the “initial” DDL process and for the “expansion” DDL process.


for LEAs new to DDL activities

for LEAs that expand previously awarded DDL


Any new LEAs applying for District Designed and Led initiatives.  See details on eligibility below.

Any LEA awarded an EASI District-Designed and Led grant may request additional funds to expand.


CS Schools: Up to $75,000 per school per year; TS and A-TS Schools: Up to $25,000 per school per year; and Schools on the accountability clock: Up to $75,000 per school per year.

When developing budgets, keep in mind Year 1 is only 6 months (January-June). Year 2 and 3 are full school years.

CS Schools: Up to $75,000 per school per year; TS and A-TS Schools: Up to $25,000 per school per year; and Schools on the accountability clock: Up to $75,000 per school per year.

When developing budgets, keep in mind Year 1 is only 6 months (January-June). Year 2 and 3 are full school years.


Up to 2 ½ years pending evidence that implementation is occurring as approved in the application. Subsequent year funding is dependent upon meeting reporting requirements and availability of funds.

For the addition of new schools, the award may be for up to 2 ½ years. Otherwise, the timeline is attached to the original request to not exceed a total of 2 ½ years. Continued funding is dependent upon meeting requirements and availability of funds.



Funding for this opportunity may be used for:

  • A district-wide initiative that addresses the reasons schools were identified for improvement
  • Implementation of evidence-based interventions at each identified school that specifically addresses the reason for the school’s identification.


Funding for this opportunity may be used to expand activities previously awarded by:

  • Adding additional schools identified for Improvement
  • Expanding the reach of activities approved in the previous year’s application
  • Adding new activities to supplement the initiative approved in the previous year's application






Eligibility: This route within the EASI is standards-based, so all scored elements must meet expectations. Proposals will be evaluated based on the criteria and rubrics within the application on a competitive basis.

Prioritization:  The prioritization process follows the typical process shared in the application on pp 6-7.



Award notifications

January and beyond

Implementation and consultative support, as needed


Each LEA that receives an EASI grant is required to report, at a minimum, are expected to:

  • Update the UIP during the standard window to reflect the exploration work (i.e., external review, parent and community engagement, improvement planning). CDE will review the plan during the school’s standard window (e.g., January for schools on the accountability; April for remaining schools).
  • Schools identified for support and improvement through ESSA (i.e., CS, TS, and additional TS schools) must use the exploration results to meet the comprehensive needs assessment requirements. CS schools should document these expectations in the UIP; TS and Additional TS schools may use the UIP. The LEA must approve the plans.
  • Submit the Annual Financial Report (AFR) to CDE.


There are no additional assurances for this route beyond the general assurances covered on page 52 of the EASI application.

Who Can I Contact For More Information?

Laura Meushaw, Title I School Improvement Coordinator

Federal Programs Unit

303-866-6618 | Send an email

Lisa Medler, Executive Director

Improvement Planning Unit

303-866-6993 | Send an email


[1] Horner, R., Blitz, C., Ross, S. (June 2014) Investing in what works issue brief: The role of contextual fit when implementing evidence-based interventions.  Washington, D.C.: American Institutes of Research.