Building the Right Review Team

Today’s review teams will function differently than review teams of the past, requiring new skills and experience

Instructional materials review team members have always held various roles—district and state leaders, procurement officers, principals, coaches, and teachers—but with the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), building an effective review team encompasses more than simply having a diversity of roles represented. From my experience leading the search for new materials in New York City and now leading reviews with the Instructional Materials Taskforce, I’ve identified some key characteristics that are the hallmarks of an effective review team.

Reviewers Have Deep Content Knowledge and a Willingness to Learn More

A deep knowledge of the content –the Standards and the Shifts — is imperative for this work. That wasn’t always true. In the past, content was scrutinized less than issues like social content, cultural sensitivity, or support for diverse learners. While these elements are still important, in today’s process, the mathematics and ELA/literacy content depth embedded in the Standards and Shifts requires a different kind of reviewer, one who is really an expert in the content.

It is also critical that reviewers are willing to be learners. This characteristic may seem in opposition to the first. If I’m an expert in my content, the presumption might be that I don’t have a great amount to learn. In fact, we are all still learning about what the Standards and Shifts look like when embodied in instructional materials. Our most productive conversations can happen when we are thinking about this work openly, when we are ready to hear each other’s perspectives, and when we are ready to go back to the language of the Standards and Shifts and grapple with examples–especially when we have a variety of stances on whether a particular unit, lesson or activity is aligned or not aligned.

Reviewers Can Facilitate Constructive Discussion

Facilitation skills are critical in review team members. Disagreements are inevitable and the process to get to an agreement can be a real gold mine of learning if it is facilitated well. In drawing out review members to explain how they came to a rating and offer evidence to support that rating, the whole team has the opportunity to test out their own understanding of what the Standards and Shifts should look like in materials. The alternatives—a poorly facilitated conversation or a disagreement that is shut down by averaging scores or by a quick vote—eradicates that learning opportunity.

Reviewers Reflect the Diversity of the Stakeholders

A review team should also consider the various stakeholders in education. While it’s critical to have content expertise, districts may need to think carefully about the recipients of the materials and make sure those interests are well-represented. Will a large number of English Language Learners be using these materials? Are there lots of new teachers who will be using these texts? Will parents want to have a voice in this process? How have special education teachers been incorporated into the team? Not every member of the review team needs to have the same role but all stakeholders should be considered when forming teams.

Reviewers Believe in the Importance of the Work

Lastly, it’s critical that the review team understands and eagerly shoulders the importance of this work. It takes time to make the right choices. Consistently, we’ve heard that it takes more time than anyone expected. Instructional materials reviewers inevitably wear lots of other hats and have full-time jobs elsewhere. Despite that, it’s imperative that they are committed to keeping the bar high, to pushing each other to build a shared understanding of what good materials should look like, and to being persistent in their quest.

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About the Author: Nancy Gannon worked as a 6-12 ELA teacher, literacy coach, and founding principal of a 6-12 school in Brooklyn before moving into a district role guiding instructional materials and assessments in New York City. She came to Student Achievement Partners because of her conviction that strongly aligned instructional materials can make a difference in ensuring that all students have access to a rigorous education. Outside of her work in education, she loves spending time with her family and reading her favorite books to her daughter.