ESSA in Practice: Benefits, Challenges, and Needs from the Perspective of District Leaders



LearnPlatform by Instructure is committed to working with education institutions and edtech providers to facilitate the implementation and ongoing development of edtech tools that truly improve teaching and learning in real-world education settings. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires that federal funding to state and local education agencies be used for evidence-based interventions, and the four-tiered evidence framework it lays out to help identify such solutions is central to our mission. But identifying evidence-based interventions is only half of the equation; education leaders and edtech providers also need to consider plans for strong implementation and measurement of results. 

ESSA is a wide-ranging and complicated piece of legislation, but a very critical one. That’s why we’re always on the lookout for authentic educator feedback to make sure we’re on the right track. Between August and September 2023, LearnPlatform facilitated two round-table discussions with a cross-section of our district leaders focusing on three areas:

  1. Identify needs across a group of K-12 education leaders related to implementing the goals of ESSA related to evidence
  2. Provide a central location for discussion of ESSA-related initiatives, issues, and questions
  3. Determine direction for ESSA-related objectives and provide guidance and recommendations


The meetings helped to uncover administrators’ thoughts related to the benefits and challenges of ESSA. Read on to learn about our most critical takeaways from these insightful conversations.

Benefits of ESSA: 

  • ESSA-aligned studies, conducted by districts or third parties, help justify edtech purchases and continued implementation
  • ESSA provides guidance for administrators on high-quality research components

Challenges of ESSA:

  • Research studies typically do not match local context, were done years prior, and are not written for administrator and educator audiences.
  • Publicly available research clearinghouses are outdated and difficult to navigate and understand
  • Districts have different levels of expertise and experience related to research and data
  • District conversations do not often reference the specific language around ESSA tiers of evidence, etc.
  • Districts can make decisions based on relationships between staff and providers instead of based upon ESSA evidence
  • Within districts, shifting administration/staff lead to lack of continuity for program support, budgeting, and overall district mission around the use of edtech
  • Educators lack time to reflect on edtech use, creating challenges in building a growth mindset around product evaluation and research 

Districts need:

  • Time-saving and efficient methods for finding and conducting research (including evidence on  non-tech based tools and curriculum)
  • Support in directing and working with educators to help them understand why ESSA is important
    • Educator involvement in discovery and evaluation of edtech tools
    • Language for discussing ESSA that is relatable to educators’ daily work
    • Prompts - When was this study conducted? With which groups of students? How did  implementation relate to student achievement?
  • Methods for communicating ESSA-related information to the community (school boards, PTOs, parents, etc.)

We are grateful to our district participants, and want to open the conversation to the broader education community and look forward to working together with all stakeholders to ensure that ESSA goals are being met in a practical and actionable way. What are your thoughts on the benefits, challenges, and needs of K-12 districts as it relates to the...