Education Funding & Grants

4 Steps to Evaluating ESSER Program Effectiveness

Sound data management practices are critical for complying with federal reporting rules.

The $190 billion in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding approved by Congress since March 2020 gives K-12 school systems much-needed federal aid, but it also comes with key challenges.

For example, districts are being asked to submit reports on the outcomes of the investments they make with this money, a best practice that many have not previously undertaken. These reporting guidelines will require careful data collection, management and evaluation.

A significant portion of the pandemic relief aid must be used to implement evidence-based programs and interventions that attend to students’ academic, social and emotional needs. Under guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Education, state and local education agencies must be prepared to report on matters such as:

  • What programs were purchased using ESSER funds?

  • How many students (broken out by various demographic groups) used these programs?

  • Were these students enrolled in remote, in-person or hybrid instruction?

  • What was the average and standard deviation of growth rate for students participating in each intervention?

To conduct the robust evaluation required to report on student outcomes in such detail, school systems will need to prioritize data management across all sites. Here are four important steps that K-12 leaders should take to do this effectively.

Prepare a list of all intervention programs purchased with pandemic relief funds.

If your ESSER spending is centrally managed, this process will be much easier. If you use a distributed model in which various schools and departments are responsible for making their own purchasing decisions, you’ll need to coordinate among all departments to make sure your list is comprehensive.

Determine what measures you’ll use to evaluate the progress of students taking part in these programs.

Make sure the methods you use are valid and reliable. The indicators you choose will depend on the outcomes you’re hoping to achieve. For instance, if you invest in an intervention designed to increase student engagement, you might use attendance rates to measure outcomes. If you invest in a math intervention program, you’ll need to measure the academic growth of all student participants using a suitable math measure.

Set up a process for collecting pre- and post-intervention data and start monitoring progress for all students participating in the program.

Depending on how your state has chosen to implement the federal government’s reporting guidelines, you might need a system for tracking the progress of students enrolled in these interventions, including the number of sessions and/or minutes that students spend participating. But even if your state doesn’t require this degree of specificity in reporting on ESSER uses and outcomes, best practices for using data in education would call for collecting this information. That way, you’ll have the insight you need to understand and monitor whether the interventions are working as intended — and whether you need to make any changes to core instruction.

If this information is tracked through the program internally, make sure the data can be exported in a format that’s usable for evaluation. If the intervention does not track this information internally, identify a simple, low-barrier process for collecting the data.

Consider the tools you’ll use to collect and manage student progress information.

Data collection and management are critical, yet often time-intensive practices. To streamline these processes, school systems can implement a data management platform that’s built to optimize program evaluation — making ESSER reporting much more manageable. Look for a platform that can help you…

  • Measure intervention outcomes at the student, group, grade, school and district levels.

  • Recognize differences across student groups, so you can easily evaluate the effectiveness of the interventions in which you’ve invested.

  • See all student data in one view to accurately identify students in need of support.

  • Identify average growth rates for students in each intervention based on their participation.

  • Use a customizable bank of research-supported interventions to match instructional supports to students’ needs.

  • Monitor student progress and document the adjustments you make to maximize student growth.

Evaluating and reporting on the use of pandemic relief funding can be challenging. But with the right tools and strategies, K-12 leaders can effectively meet the federal reporting requirements while positioning their schools for success.

About the Author

Delonna Darsow, PhD, is the Product Champion for Sourcewell’s school technology division. Proliftic, by Sourcewell, is an evidence-based data integration platform that provides intuitive reporting to help K-12 districts monitor student progress, identify gaps in learning, match students with effective interventions and evaluate program effectiveness.