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District Designed and Led Improvement Strategies

Districts are encouraged to initiate and expand their own district-designed supports for schools in need of improvement. This grant is a good fit for districts and their schools that have invested in solid planning and are ready for implementation – or that have seen positive results and would like to expand programming.

To be awarded funds under this application, proposals must meet requirements under ESSA. This includes requirements for stakeholder engagement, planning, use of evidence-based interventions (EBI), and evaluation and reporting. Because this is an implementation grant, scoring is designed in a standards-based manner – meaning that all elements must meet expectations to be considered for an award. CDE may request changes before making the award, however, this is expected to be a more competitive grant.

Stakeholder Engagement

State and federal expectations highlight the importance of stakeholder engagement (e.g., building leadership, teachers, and parents) throughout the school improvement process. Schools identified under ESSA (i.e., Comprehensive, Targeted) and under the state accountability system (i.e., Priority Improvement, Turnaround) have specific requirements that serve as a common foundation to build from, such as the state expectation that school accountability committees provide feedback on school plans. For the District Designed and Led route, applications should address how stakeholders (e.g., school leaders, teachers, parents, local board) will be involved in the proposed activities in meaningful and relevant ways.

Improvement Planning

Improvement plans are one of the tangible ways that districts and schools document their intentions for improving outcomes for students. All opportunities within this application revolve around this documentation process. The Unified Improvement Plan (UIP) provides a convenient mechanism for capturing the specific ESSA requirements. Note that there are differences for Comprehensive Support (CS) schools and for Targeted Support (TS) schools within the planning process. Districts applying for this route will need to be explicit about how planning requirements will be documented for the overall district and participating schools (e.g., timelines, documentation outside of the UIP process). If awarded, the plans will serve as an important part of the grant accountability process. More details on ESSA planning requirements are shared at the end of the document.

Evidence-Based Interventions

Evidence-based interventions are practices or programs that have proven to be effective in leading to a particular outcome. The kind of evidence required by ESSA generally has been produced through formal studies and research. Under ESSA, there are four levels of evidence:

  • Tier 1 -- Strong Evidence: Supported by one or more well-designed and well-implemented randomized control experimental studies. 
  • Tier 2 -- Moderate Evidence: Supported by one or more well-designed and well-implemented quasi-experimental studies.
  • Tier 3 -- Supported by one or more well-designed and well implemented correlational studies (with statistical controls for selection bias).
  • Tier 4 -- Demonstrates a Rational: Practices that have a well-defined logic model or theory of action, are supported by research, and have some effort underway by an SEA, LEA, or outside research organization to determine their effectiveness.

In making awards for this application, ESSA requires schools to have strong, moderate, or promising evidence (Tiers 1- 3) to support them. To ensure the best fit, selected strategies must also demonstrate an alignment to:

  • Need (student and school system priorities)
  • Precision (clear definition of the proposed intervention)
  • Efficiency (reasonable adoption period, sustainable after grant period)
  • Skills (staff have the ability or will be trained to implement the strategy)
  • Cultural relevance (the intervention and its outcomes are valued by stakeholders)
  • Resources (time, funding, materials, staff)
  • Organizational support (district and school leaders are invested and involved)

In determining best fit, CDE will also consider other state and federal requirements. For example, reading interventions in early elementary grades should meet the more rigorous standards of the READ Act which has already vetted many reading interventions. See the READ Act website for additional information

CDE will consider best practices to guide its assessment of fit. CDE has adopted the Four Domains for Rapid School Improvement from the Center for School Turnaround as a way to organize discussions around action plans. The domains include: culture shift, instructional transformation, leadership, and talent development. See the Center for School Turnaround's Four Domains Framework (PDF) for more information.

CDE also acknowledges that high schools have complex structures and operate differently from elementary and middle schools. As such, proposals for high schools should provide a broader analysis of needs beyond the School Performance Framework to include other local measures unique to high schools. Within the proposed activities, it is expected that the school is working toward offering multiple postsecondary pathways or is expanding multiple postsecondary pathways.


Eligible Applicants and Prioritization


Districts with schools identified for Comprehensive Support (CS) or Targeted Support (TS). This route within the EASI is standards-based, so all scored elements must meet expectations. Proposals will be evaluated based on the criteria and rubrics within the application on a competitive basis.


In the event that a tie breaker is needed between multiple applications, priority will be given to: (1) geographic representation, and (2) school identification type in the following order:

  1. Comprehensive Schools – lowest 5% of Title I schools
  2. Comprehensive Schools – low grad or completion rate and on the state accountability clock
  3. Comprehensive Schools – low grad or completion rate and not on the state accountability clock (i.e., Improvement, Performance)
  4. Additional Targeted Schools that are on the state accountability clock (i.e., Priority Improvement, Turnaround);
  5. Additional Targeted Schools with an Improvement plan type
  6. Additional Targeted Schools with a Performance plan type
  7. Targeted Schools that are on the state accountability clock
  8. Targeted Schools with an Improvement plan type
  9. Targeted Schools with a Performance plan type


Available Funds

Funding will depend on the proposals and magnitude of change requested by districts. CDE offers these approximate ranges of funding as guidelines for district proposals. These amounts may include multiple-year awards but would need to be re-evaluated each year through the EASI.

  • Comprehensive Schools: $0 - $150,000 per school
  • Targeted and Additional Targeted Schools: $0 - $50,000 per school

Allowable Use of Funds

Awarded funds may be applied toward the improvement activities approved in the proposal. Applications within this route may be funded for up to three years pending evidence that implementation is occurring as approved in the application. Subsequent year funding is dependent upon meeting reporting requirements and availability of funds.

Funds from this opportunity must be used to supplement and not supplant any federal, state, and local funds currently being used to provide activities. There will be no carryover of funds. Unobligated funds at the end of the fiscal year will be returned to the CDE for redistribution.


  • January: Award Notifications
  • January and beyond: Implementation and consultative support, as needed

Evaluation and Reporting

Each LEA that receives an EASI grant is required to report, at a minimum, the following information to CDE:

  • For districts with TS schools, districts are expected to review and approve improvement plans.
  • For districts with schools with Priority Improvement or Turnaround plan types, regardless of ESSA designation, UIPs will be reviewed during the typical UIP timelines (e.g., schools on the accountability clock by January 15 and all others by April 15).
  • For districts with CS schools, CDE is developing processes and protocols to monitor the implementation of the improvement plans of schools identified for CS. LEAs will be notified regarding the timeline and expectations for this process.
  • An Annual Financial Report (AFR).

Program Assurances

There are no additional assurances for this route beyond the general assurances covered on pages 14-15 of the EASI.

For More Information Contact:

Laura Meushaw 
Send an email to Laura

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