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ESSA Planning Requirements

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The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states to identify schools for Comprehensive (CS), Targeted (TS), or Additional Targeted (A-TS) Support and Improvement. Additionally, ESSA requires that identified schools develop and implement an improvement plan that addresses the reasons for the school’s identification and will result in improvement of student outcomes. Plan development, approval, and monitoring vary by identification categories.

The ESSA Improvement Plan Rubric is used to approve UIP's submitted by schools identified for Comprehensive Support and Improvement. 

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states to identify schools for Comprehensive (CS), Targeted (TS), or Additional Targeted (A-TS) Support and Improvement. Additionally, ESSA requires that identified schools develop and implement an improvement plan that addresses the reasons for the school’s identification and will result in improvement of student outcomes. The ESSA Improvement Plan Rubric is used to approve Unified Improvement Plans (UIPs) submitted by schools identified for Comprehensive Support and Improvement.
The Office of ESEA Programs hosted a webinar on October 17, 2019 to share lessons learned from the prior year and to provide information on ESSA requirements for school improvement planning requirements for the 2019-20 Unified Improvement Plans (UIPs) review cycle. The PowerPoint and recording are now available!
Please reach out to Karen Bixler, or Nazanin Mohajeri-Nelson with any questions.

Planning Requirements for Comprehensive Support and Improvement Schools

CS plans must:

  • Be developed by the LEA in partnership with stakeholders, including the principal, other school leaders, teacher and parents of the school.
  • Be informed by student performance on accountability indicators. In Colorado, this currently refers to performance indicators on the School Performance Frameworks (i.e., English language arts and math achievement and growth, science achievement, and postsecondary workforce readiness).
  • Include evidence-based interventions.
  • Be based on a school-level needs assessment.
  • Address resource inequities.
  • Be approved by the school, LEA, and CDE.

CS Plan Submission and Approval Process and Monitoring:

  • CS plans should be documented within the school’s Unified Improvement Plan (UIP) and submitted through the Online UIP System.
  • The timeline for CS plan submission follows the typical UIP submission process:  January for schools on the accountability clock (i.e., Priority Improvement, Turnaround) and April for all other schools. Any schools identified as CS that submit their UIPs in January, even if they have a Performance or Improvement plan type, will be reviewed and provided feedback by April 1. 
  • CDE will use the ESSA CS plan embedded within the Quality Criteria to approve plans.
  • Once plans are approved, CDE is required to monitor implementation of and periodically review CS plans.
  • Once identified, schools will remain CS for three years.
  • Schools may exit this category after the third year, if they no longer meet the identification criteria for the year in which the school was identified and they not re-identified in the fourth year.
  • CDE has been and will continue to work with stakeholders to determine what actions will be necessary for any schools that do not meet the exit criteria.

Planning Requirements for Targeted and Additional Targeted Support and Improvement Schools

TS plans must:

  • Be developed by schools in partnership with stakeholders, including the principal, other school leaders, teachers and parents.
  • Be informed by student performance for identified disaggregated student group(s) on each accountability indicator that resulted in the school’s identification as TS.
  • Include evidence-based interventions to address areas of need.
  • For Additional TS schools only, address resource inequities.

TS Plan Approval and Monitoring:

  • The LEA determines the number of years a school can be identified for targeted support and improvement before taking additional action. LEAs are responsible for determining what that additional action should be.
  • LEAs are responsible for approving and monitoring TS plans. LEAs have the option to create their own document, however, Colorado’s UIP provides a convenient mechanism for capturing the specific ESSA requirements as it aligns well with required plan components. The UIP Quality Criteria includes TS requirements if LEAs choose to document TS plans within the UIP.

Crosswalk of ESSA School Improvement Planning Requirements within the UIP Process

Crosswalk of ESSA Planning requirements and UIP connection. Please see the bullets in the sections titled: Planning Requirements for Comprehensive Support and Improvement Schools and Planning Requirements for Targeted and Additional Targeted Support and Improvement Schools at for an accessible version of this information

Evidence-Based Interventions (EBI)

Evidence in education is continually evolving and expanding. Driven by growing K-12 research and requirements in federal education law, specifically the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), use of evidence-based practices among teachers, school leaders, and district personnel has become more common over recent decades. Evidence-based practices, and specifically evidence-based interventions (EBIs) as defined by ESSA, are crucial to improving student outcomes and closing gaps in student achievement. 

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.

NEW! Recorded in December 2019, Federal Programs Unit staff --Senior Consultant Jeremy Meredith and Research Analyst Mary Shen—define “EBI”, discuss “levels of evidence” under ESSA, and step through three key contextual fit considerations when selecting EBIs.

 Evidence, ESSA, and Contextual Fit Webinar and PowerPoint

Why are EBIs important?

  • ESSA requires that at least one Level 1-3 EBI be incorporated into improvement plans where state set-aside funds for school improvement are used (e.g., funds or supports accessed via EASI application).
  • ESSA also requires schools identified for Comprehensive Support or Targeted Support and Improvement to implement at least one EBI, Levels 1-4 in their improvement plans.
  • It is a matter of equity to seek out and leverage strategies that have been shown to reliably improve students’ outcomes-- particularly for historically underserved students – where the EBI was designed for and its impact has been studied with the student populations to be served with the EBI.

ESSA Levels of Evidence

ESSA outlines four levels of evidence: (1) strong, (2) moderate, (3) promising, and (4) demonstrates a rationale based on high-quality research findings (ESSA, Section 8101(21)(A)).

ESSA requires the use of at least one Level 1-3 EBI where Title I, Section 1003 school improvement funds are used (ESSA Section 8101(21)(A)). This requirement applies to both CDE-offered services and district initiatives supported by 1003 funds. Also, ESSA requires that schools identified as either Comprehensive Support (CS) or Targeted Support (TS) include at least one Level 1-4 EBI in their improvement plans (ESSA Section 1111(d)(1)(B)(ii) and Section 1111 (d)(2)(B)(ii)). More information on ESSA identification and planning requirements is provided here.

Levels 1-3 evidence must demonstrate a statistically significant and positive (favorable) effect of the intervention on a student outcome or other relevant outcome, and should not be contested by evidence from equally rigorous studies. Figure A provides more information on ESSA levels of evidence:

Figure A: ESSA Levels of Evidence

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.

Selecting EBIs – Key Considerations

When exploring available EBIs, three considerations –and related questions—are especially important; they address strength of evidence, fit of the intervention, and capacity to implement. These considerations should guide the effort to find solutions to local challenges.

Key Selection Considerations: Strength - is the strategy clearly defined and supported by high quality research? Fit - Does the strategy address needs and align to staff skills and competencies? Capacity - Is there leadership support, resources, and necessary time for implementation?
Several resources have been developed by the Colorado Department of Education to help support educators at the classroom, school, and district levels select the right EBIs for their context.

EBI Resources

The below CDE resources are topic- or grant-specific, but provide helpful information for selecting EBIs.

  • Exploring EBIs: Introduction to Research Clearinghouses  - This web page outlines considerations for assessing evidence strength and provides a list of available research clearinghouses to explore evidence-based solutions in an easy, accessible way

  • Selecting EBIs: Using Contextual Fit to Choose the Right EBI for Your Context  - While strength of evidence is necessary, it is not sufficient for identifying solutions that align with local contexts. This web page summarizes key considerations regarding fit and capacity and offers links to tools that can help guide thoughtful selection. 

  • Major Improvement Strategy Evidence Guides - The CDE Improvement Planning Team has assembled several Major Improvement Strategy (MIS) Evidence Guides. These resources outline what evidence says are the key components of MISs.
  • CDE Advisory List of Providers -This resource provides a list of providers who have submitted information to CDE about their service, product, or intervention, and have demonstrated some level of evidence for positive impact.
  • Read ACT Advisory List  - The READ Act requires the Department to identify quality reading instructional programs and professional development programs for use by local education agencies. This page includes information about providers and programs that have been identified through a review process.

Comprehensive Support and Improvement Unified Improvement Planning (CS-UIP) Trainings (2022)

The Comprehensive Support (CS) and Improvement Plan under ESSA trainings focus on schools identified for Lowest 5% and Low Graduation Rate and requirements specific to each CS identification. The trainings are designed to support principals or the individuals writing the school-level improvement plans, as well as the district personnel responsible for supporting the development of, review, and approval of the school UIPs.

CS Lowest 5% and Low Graduation Training (Focus: Newly Identified Schools in 2022)

October 11, 2022

Recording | PowerPoint

CS Lowest 5% K-2 Training

September 8, 2022

Recording | PowerPoint

CS Lowest 5% Elementary/Secondary Training

September 8, 2022

Recording | PowerPoint

CS Low Graduation Training

September 1, 2022

Recording | PowerPoint

CS UIP Requirements Training (High-level Overview)

August 2, 2022

Recording | PowerPoint

[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.

Contact Information

Nazanin Mohajeri-Nelson, Ph.D.
Executive Director 
Send an email to Nazanin

Mary Shen
ESEA Research Analyst
Send an email to Mary

Karen Bixler
Title II Specialist
Send an email to Karen