Using the WWC: How One School District Uses Education Research for Improvement

Superintendents, district leaders, and other academic administrators need to know what works in education. And they need to know it quickly. An investment of the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education, the What Works Clearinghouse, or WWC, is a resource that helps educators, administrators, parents, and policymakers make evidence-based decisions. For over a decade, the WWC has been a trusted source of evidence on education programs, products, practices, and policies. The WWC provides several resources to assist district leadership in making informed decisions. At the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, the staff leverages WWC resources to create reports that grade evidence-based programming used in schools within the district. These reports help principals, district leaders, and other staff make informed decisions about programming available in Cleveland. So our report cards were developed in order to provide our principals with sort of an easy-to-read and concise and yet thorough snapshot of information on the programs that are available for purchase through their schools. You can break the report card down into three sections. The first section provides information on the program itself: who’s the target audience, what skills it teaches, various information along those lines. The middle section, which is where the grades exist, consists of five subgrades averaging up into one overall grade. The first subgrade is an internal evaluation that we do at the district using rigorous methods, much like the What Works Clearinghouse. We do an analysis to determine whether or not the program made an impact for anyone that used it. The second grade is whether or not the program made an impact for those who use the program a lot. The third grade looks at external evidence from sources like the What Works Clearinghouse and other rigorous studies online. We look at the existing evidence and synthesize that. And then the last two grades are based off feedback from principals on the ease of implementation of the program and the impact of the program itself. The final section consists of a comment section like “Yelp” reviews or was the original inspiration of saying, “How do people feel about this program?” And we take that feedback so principals can hear from each other in principals’ words what they think of the program itself. We’ll reference the report cards internally in central office if we’re trying to learn a little bit more about a program. And the school staff will use the report cards during their design cycle, and if they are looking to pick a new program, or if they want to allocate resources differently, or decide whether or not to continue to allocate resources in a certain way, they will look to the report cards for evidence about whether or not that is a good decision. In addition to the report cards, academic superintendents at the Cleveland Metropolitan School District use the WWC to provide resources to school principals they work with in the field. The most recent example of using the What Works Clearinghouse is using the most recently released mathematics practice guide for grades 4 through 8. I used it to guide a discussion with three of my principals around how we could support mathematics instruction, specifically in the middle grades, where we’re having some really large difficulties. So we really talked about how we could support teachers in planning, so that they were really intentional about how they modeled for their students the specific standards that we wanted them to achieve. And then talked to them about how they can plan the practice that the students need to do so that they can become masterful in that particular content area. And then how we design assessments that align with our state test as well as providing space for students to show what they know in a more extended fashion. So that particular practice guide was really helpful as we were talking about how we can support our teachers. My colleagues and I often discuss What Works Clearinghouse in terms of the resources that support our students. It’s a good way for us to use data and to use research-based practices. We really want to focus on what works for our particular students. One of the things that I like about it, and I think my colleagues like about it, is the fact that it does differentiate as to whether or not a resource is suitable for students with special needs, if it’s suitable for diverse populations, if it’s suitable for students with low SES in some cases. And it really provides us that support so that we don’t have to go hunting to find the research to show whether or not a particular program or a particular strategy would work for our students. We hope these examples are helpful for districts as they think about how they can use the WWC. Our goal is to provide educators, administrators, parents, and policymakers the information they need to answer the question, “What works in education?” For more information, please visit us at

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