ESSA Level 4: Getting your foot in the door

In my last post, I talked about how the recent American Rescue Plan Act will bring an influx of funds specifically for out-of-school time (OST) — after-school and summer — programs, as well as for community schools and wraparound services. 

This is a huge win for those working tirelessly in family engagement and OST!

I also mentioned that to be on the safe side, it’s a good idea to start building your evidence base now, in case these funds are earmarked for evidence-based programs under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). 

Now that you’re all familiar with the four evidence levels, let’s dig into the most accessible one: Level 4.

So many grass roots, small, community-based organizations are at a disadvantage with ESSA’s evidence requirement. Here’s why: 1) evaluation services can get expensive, and 2) they often require technical know-how or an outside consultant to do them well.

Program staff are great at working with kids, families, and schools. That’s why they do this work! They didn’t sign up to be evaluators, so I get why the thought of doing an evaluation can send some program staff running for the hills. 

But let’s take a deep breath.

Here’s the great news about Level 4: if you know that your organization is planning to evaluate your family engagement or after-school services but hasn’t done so yet, you can demonstrate that there is a great likelihood that your services are impactful and still get access to those Title I and other federal funds. 

That’s it – demonstrating a likelihood! It’s a great way to get your foot in the door with districts while working towards the bigger goal of becoming evidence-based.

So you may be saying – Amanda, that sounds great, but how do I show that my services are likely to have a positive impact on kids and families?

Here’s what you need to apply for ESSA Level 4 approval: 

1) A logic model for your organization

Essentially, logic models are a depiction of what you put into your program (resources, activities), what you hope to get out of it (short- and long-term outcomes), and how you’ll know you’re on track to do that (measures, benchmarks).

​Check out my post about the ins and outs of logic models here.

2) Citations demonstrating the impact of similar programs

We can use online tools like Google Scholar to find existing evaluations and research studies that show that similar programs serving similar groups of kids or families had a positive impact.

​So, if you’re a program in a major urban center and you find a study demonstrating the effectiveness of a small, rural initiative, it’s probably best to keep looking. We want to compare apples to apples here.

You’ll also have to make sure that the studies you find meet the ESSA standards described in my last post.

3) A plan for your future evaluation

All you need to do is put together a plan for how you are going to measure your program’s impact in the future. You’ll have to share who you’ll study, what you’ll look at, and when you’ll conduct this research.

You may need to chat with an evaluator for this one. Don’t worry though – evaluations don’t have to be a multi-year, super expensive endeavor!

I hope you noticed that none of those three requirements needed any program data!

​So if you’re started to track your family engagement or student data, Level 4 gives you time to get your systems up and running, while still giving you access to the funds you need and the students and families you want to work with!

If you want to know how to DIY the ESSA Level 4 process, sign up below for Evidence for Engagement, the free mini course from Tamara Hamai and me!

​With weekly videos and worksheets, it will walk you through how to get your application ready for your local school district and get your foot in the door.