Clearly Define Evidence

Why it Matters

Clearly defining “evidence” is a key step in including evidence standards in grant programs. By determining what counts as evidence, state education agencies (SEAs) can evaluate and score proposals against those standards and set clear expectations for applicants.

Options for Defining Evidence

Adopt the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) evidence definition, which includes four levels of evidence, determined by a combination of study design and study results.

Define evidence by describing key features of an evidence-based program.

Use a statewide definition of evidence established by state statute or commonly used across state agencies (e.g., for budgeting purposes).

Develop a new definition of evidence.

RFA’s definition of evidence emphasizes the value of both evidence-based programs and evidence-building programs:

Definition Considerations

SEAs can use grant programs to invest in both evidence-based programs and evidence-building programs, as long as they clearly define the criteria for each. For more on how RFA distinguishes between “evidence-based” and “evidence-building,” see here.

Whether an SEA is developing a new definition of evidence or starting with an existing definition and looking to build on its strengths, they should consider a definition for their grant program that:

  • Encourages consideration of the full body of evidence for programs that are being considered.

  • Encourages grantees to implement programs with a proven track record and information from a broad set of methods for understanding the successful implementation and potential impact of a given investment.

  • Elevates the importance of generating and using knowledge on a program’s impact and implementation in similar contexts and for similar populations, given that an average effect can mask significant differences across subgroups, including by race, ethnicity, gender, geography, income, and other characteristics.

  • Distinguishes between evidence-based programs and programs that have not yet demonstrated effectiveness, while creating pathways for evidence-building.

  • Ensures the presence of an informed rationale for implementation in each context and based on stakeholder input — in other words, government leaders should be able to articulate a theory of change for why their proposed investment is likely to have a positive impact in their jurisdiction.

  • Encourages ongoing evaluation of the implementation and impact of the program.

RFA's New Evidence Definitions

Building on the strong foundation of evidence definitions already in use, Results for America is sharing new definitions of “evidence-based” and “evidence-building” that we believe will help pave the way for governments to more clearly and effectively shift dollars to what works and deliver better results for all.