Selecting Evidence-Based Practices for Tiers 1, 2 and 3: Navigating Clearinghouses and Databases

Three of the four tiers of EBPs in the ESEA, as amended by ESSA, are based on tiered levels of evidence from existing research:

  • Tier 1 (Strong Evidence) requires evidence from studies that have had a positive, statistically significant impact on student outcomes without any negative findings from well-designed, well-implemented experimental or quasi-experimental studies examining the same interventions and outcomes.
  • Tier 2 (Moderate Evidence) requires evidence from studies that have had a positive, statistically significant impact on student outcomes without any negative findings from well-designed, well-implemented experimental or quasi-experimental studies examining the same interventions and outcomes.
  • Tier 3 (Promising Evidence) requires evidence from at least one correlational study with statistical controls for selection bias, which generally includes a statistical model for determining the relationship between two factors or variables.

Each of these three tiers also requires that the evidence of impact be statistically significant, meaning that the impact is substantial enough to not be due to chance. For Tiers 1-2, evidence should come from large, multisite studies with characteristics of the sample and setting1 similar to those in your school or district. Samples and settings can be pooled across multiple studies examining the same practice or program to meet the large, multisite sample criteria. For more information on technical assistance resources to help states and districts develop processes for identifying EBPs, see the Guides for Identifying Evidence-Based Interventions for School Improvement, the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) Glossary, and the webinar on Understanding the Department of Education's Evidence Definitions.

Process for Identifying EBPs

To identify potential EBPs that fit these three tiers, districts will need to navigate clearinghouses and other research repositories. While there are existing resources on how to navigate these sites, this process can still be challenging for many school and district staff. The table below provides a detailed process school and district staff can use to identify EBPs based on identified local needs, which is aligned with step one and step two of the cycle outlined in ED’s Non-Regulatory Guidance: Using Evidence to Strengthen Education Investments.

Step Action Description
Step 1: Identify Local Needs Identify search terms or criteria based on the needs identified through the local needs assessment. Through a needs assessment process, local staff identify the key types of needs or challenges for which they will need to identify appropriate EBPs. These might include categories such as improving reading intervention, developing and retaining highly effective educators, or creating a positive school climate and culture. Staff can browse categories within WWC or other clearinghouses to identify more discrete key search terms or use practice queries to better refine search terms. When possible, staff can use WWC practice guides, research summaries, or literature reviews to identify multiple relevant studies on a specific topic.
Step 2: Select Relevant, Evidence-Based Interventions Refine the specific types of practices, interventions, or approaches to target. Once staff have gathered a list of potential types of practices, interventions, and approaches to target, they may wish to further refine this list of practices, interventions, or approaches to more closely align with the identified local needs. In some cases, there may be a limited number of evidence-based interventions or models from which to choose; in other cases, there may be a wide variety of approaches that schools and districts may take.
Identify the tiers met by these EBPs. As part of local planning and reporting, staff must determine what tiers these potential EBPs meet, and whether this aligns with state and federal requirements under ESEA.
Consider which EBPs may be most relevant for the local context. When selecting EBPs, staff might balance various factors in deciding which programs to choose. Staff may want to consider the extent to which the study population(s) reflect the local context and community. It is also important to note that Tier 1 requires overlap with district or school population and setting, Tier 2 requires overlap with district or school population or setting, and Tier 3 does not require overlap.

Using Clearinghouses to Find and Select EBPs

The following resources may be helpful to school and district staff in using and navigating clearinghouses to select EBPs.

What Works Clearinghouse: Find What Works Tool
The WWC website provides searchable reviews of existing research in a wide variety of areas such as mathematics, literacy, science, dropout prevention, teacher excellence, and working with English learners, among others. The "Find What Works" tool allows users to easily search for studies by topic area, such as math or science, to find studies where there is evidence of positive effects.

How to Use the What Works Clearinghouse: A Presentation for the Policies, Programs, and Implementation Committee at the NCES Forum
This presentation provides an overview of the products included on the What Works Clearinghouse webpage as well a demonstration on how to use its database to find evidence-based interventions and practices.

Guides for Identifying Evidence-Based Interventions for School Improvement
The Florida Center for Reading Research has developed guides for states and districts on identifying evidence-based interventions for school improvement. These guides provide tools for facilitating a self-study process to find interventions that are most relevant and appropriate based on need, with the strongest evidence base possible.

Aligning Evidence-based Clearinghouses with the ESSA Tiers of Evidence
This resource from REL Midwest identifies how the terminology used by major databases (e.g., WWC, Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development) aligns with the criteria for the four tiers defined in ESEA.

Databases to Search for EBPs

The following databases may be helpful to staff in locating appropriate EBPs for their identified needs. (Please Note: Some studies that qualify as “strong” or “moderate” on a listed website might not meet those standards if submitted to WWC. For that reason, this section is for informational purposes only and does not endorse any specific rating.)

What Works Clearinghouse
This database reviews and rates research regarding programs, practices, products and polices in the field of education. In doing so, it ensures that education stakeholders are using the best available research when making evidence-based decisions.

Results First Clearinghouse Database
This one-stop online resource developed through a partnership of the Pew Charitable Trusts and other organizations provides an easy way to find information on the effectiveness of various interventions as rated by eight national research clearinghouses, including education and related topics. The database applies a uniform color-coding system to the clearinghouses’ ratings, allowing users to quickly assess where each intervention falls on a spectrum from highest rated (green) to negative effects (red). Clearinghouses included are:

  • Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development
  • California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare
  • The Laura and John Arnold Foundation’s Social Programs That Work
  • The U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse
  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Research-Tested Intervention Programs
  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Teen Pregnancy Prevention Evidence Review
  • The U.S. Department of Justice’s
  • The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices
  • The University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s County Health Rankings and Roadmaps What Works for Health

Evidence for ESSA
This searchable website, developed by researchers at the Center for Research and Reform in Education (CRRE) at Johns Hopkins University, reviews math and reading programs for grades K to 12 to determine which meet the strong, moderate, or promising levels of evidence defined in ESEA.

Campbell Collaboration
The Campbell Collaboration is an online, searchable database of EBPs, including research summaries and “plain language” summaries for a non-technical audience.

Child Trends LINCS Database
This database includes EBPs identified across Child Trends evaluation programs, organized by fact sheets by topic area. Users can also access the Child Trends What Works site to further explore all evaluations by topic area and keyword.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services National Registry of Evidence Based Practices and Programs (Note: This database is no longer being updated).
This database allows users to find scientifically based mental health interventions by keyword or topic area.

Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development
This database of positive youth development programs includes both broad prevention programs and targeted programs for specific needs. Each intervention included in this database is reviewed by an advisory board using strict selection criteria.