Cross-Office Collaboration Strengthens Ohio’s Resources on Evidence-Based Strategies
State education leaders who are champions for data- and evidence-use significantly impact the way their state education agencies (SEAs) and local education agencies (LEAs) serve students. These leaders are better positioned to:
- Deeply understand their students’ needs;
- Identify, share, and invest in evidence-based strategies; and
- Create a culture of continuous improvement and learning.
Results for America’s State Education Fellowship brings together state senior evaluation and program leaders who are these very champions. Fellows are education leaders who are focused on accelerating the generation and use of data, investing in what works and making evidence-based policymaking the new normal in education.
Through the State Education Fellowship, a team of leaders from Ohio saw an opportunity to improve the state’s support for the use of evidence-based strategies at both the SEA and LEA level. We asked the Ohio team to share how they are using co-creation and collaboration to further internal alignment and inspire new resources on evidence-based strategies for educators.
What challenge did Ohio face that the team decided to focus on through RFA’s State Education Fellowship?
In the years following the enactment of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the Ohio Department of Education made significant progress in building SEA and LEA knowledge about the meaning and value of evidence-based strategies. The state created new resources for SEA and LEA teams to identify evidence-based practices (e.g., Ohio’s Evidence-Based Clearinghouse) and identified ways to encourage the use of evidence-based practices (e.g., grant requirements). The Department’s Office of Research and Evaluation led the development of the SEA’s understanding and commitment to evidence-based practices. Identifying the research office as lead made sense in that this team shared a deep understanding of evaluation and the definition of “evidence-based,” as well as the role of both in the continuous improvement cycle.
At the same time, limiting leadership of Ohio’s efforts to support the use of evidence-based strategies to the research office introduced several challenges, chiefly:
- Resource development did not consistently benefit from the input of Ohio’s content area experts, even though their perspective was incredibly important in ensuring the state’s resources were meeting educators’ needs.
- There was limited coherence around how the state defined ‘evidence-based’, messaging about using evidence-based strategies as part of a cycle of continuous improvement, or strategies for incentivizing LEAs to use evidence-based practices.
What was the solution to this challenge?
With support from executive and senior leadership, the Department created an internal cross-office team dedicated to:
- Adopting a common definition of evidence-based and applying it consistently across the department’s programs; and
- Providing direction to the development of new and improved resources on evidence-based strategies.
The new cross-office team includes office directors or their designees from 11 offices, across 4 agency centers. Ohio intentionally included office leaders on the cross-office team as a signal of the importance of this work and because establishing agency-wide coherence around the understanding and use of evidence-based strategies must include leadership. Significantly, the cross-office team does not simply advise the research office as they continue to lead the Department’s efforts around evidence-based strategies. Rather, team members actively engage in the co-creation of resources that will benefit their SEA teams, school districts, and Ohio educators.
To add capacity for the cross-office team, the Department hired an intern responsible for providing coordination and research support. Additionally, the Department’s existing relationships with the state’s institutions of higher education — particularly the Ohio State University, home to the Ohio Education Research Center — will be vital moving forward. Combined with additional support for external research capacity made possible through the American Rescue Plan’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, these external partnerships will play a significant role as the state identifies opportunities to improve existing resources.
How is this work impacting the state of Ohio?
Less than a year after creating this new cross-office team, the Department already sees benefits to its existence, both in terms of internal and external impact. Internally, program offices now have a support system for dealing with questions related to evidence-based strategies, as those questions surface in interactions with the education community and new federal funding opportunities. Additionally, the cross-team discussions and the state’s participation in RFA’s State Education Fellowship helped crystallize a vision for Ohio in which their evidence-based resources are a balance of evidence-based practices with evidence-based programs. This is important because programs tend to be vendor- and contract-based, while practices represent steps districts can take independently to improve student support. An evidence-based program may be the best investment for a district introducing a new holistic approach to addressing a need, while practices may be the most helpful for districts looking to complement or improve existing services. A comprehensive set of state-level resources will include both programs and practices.
As a result of these internal improvements, Ohio educators now receive more consistent messaging from the Department about how to define evidence-based strategies, where to find evidence-based strategies, and how to generate evidence for new or less-researched strategies. Further, the state is now expanding the evidence-based strategies cataloged in Ohio’s Evidence-Based Clearinghouse, which means that each subsequent cohort of districts and schools going through the Ohio Improvement Process benefits from a more comprehensive resource that will allow them to identify evidence-based resources that are most aligned with their needs.
What did the Ohio team learn from this effort?
When the Ohio Department of Education first started the cross-office team that would strengthen Ohio’s approach to supporting the use of evidence-based strategies, they had a specific, initial idea of how this team would work. For example, initially, the team came together as a large group; however, this structure quickly evolved into smaller affinity groups, which have allowed team members to dig deeper into specific focus areas. Additionally, the Department knew that they wanted to increase coherence in the way staff were defining and supporting the use of evidence-based strategies. This group, however, has also allowed for broader connections across initiatives. For example, discussions within this cross-office team are leading to greater coherence across the agency’s evidence initiatives and the use of EdReports for the state’s High Quality Instructional Materials efforts.
Most exciting, perhaps, is that one of the initial goals of the cross-office teams was to ensure that offices all shared the definition of “evidence-based” that leadership supported. In some respects, then, this was a top-down approach to providing internal guidance. The cross-office team is meeting this goal; however, as this work came together, the Ohio team quickly learned that this cross-office team also serves as an opportunity to elevate work that was already happening within offices — work that could inform and inspire others to take similar steps to support the use of evidence-based strategies.
The Ohio team brought their colleagues together around a shared goal and is leading this work with a sense of humility and flexibility that is allowing their cross-office team to flourish in unexpected ways. Doing so creates a sense of shared ownership, respect for others’ needs and ideas, and positions Ohio to continue to evolve their support for the use of evidence-based strategies well into the future.
Check out more fellowship successes with California, Kentucky, and Oklahoma’s solutions. To learn more about ODE’s work, Results for America, or how to become a Fellow, contact Results for America’s Director of Education Policy Implementation Heather Boughton.