Part 1 of Oakland Case Study

Designing a Review Driven by Local Needs

How the Oakland Unified School District designed a teacher-centered materials review selection process

District leaders in the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) knew they needed to make a change. It had been more than a decade since they had originally adopted the Holt Literature and Language Arts textbook series for their secondary school students, and in the six years since the state adopted the Common Core State Standards, teachers had to use their own judgment and time to adapt the existing curriculum or even create whole-cloth curriculum to match the Standards. While this led to the development of some creative new materials, the identification of high-quality OER materials, and other innovative curriculum solutions, the situation was not ideal. Seventy percent of students scored below proficient on the ELA portion of the 2015 SBAC exam. Additionally, the district realized it was impossible to provide in-depth, curriculum-based, professional development to its teachers because everyone was using different materials. The enormous variation in materials meant that a group of teachers from the same district were limited in their ability to participate in effective teacher collaboration because they weren’t able to sit and analyze student work from the same text, nor could they analyze the same texts students were reading.

District leaders came to the realization that to provide high-quality support to help its teachers improve, they’d have to first adopt a Common Core-aligned curriculum that teachers believed in. They didn’t want the decision to come from the top-down. They wanted the choice to reflect what classroom educators said was important for providing Standards-aligned instruction.

Nancy Lai, PK-12 Literacy Manager for the OUSD said that she recognized that a lot of the changes textbook publishers made after the adoption of Common Core were nothing more than “bells and whistles; fluff with no big content changes that reflected the heart of the instruction.” Because teachers in the district had already been doing the heavy lifting, adapting their materials to meet the Standards, Lai and other district leaders knew that teachers would not be satisfied with new materials that incorporated only superficial changes.

To ensure that the new choices reflected the textbook criteria that were important to educators, a group of ELA Teacher Leaders designed a survey (attached below) to help capture what teachers used and wanted in a curriculum. The ELA Teachers Leaders were an existing group of representatives from schools serving grades 6-12. Each school had selected its own representative from a group of nominated and self-nominated candidates. Their existing leadership responsibilities made this a natural fit for them.  In March of 2015, the ELA Teacher Leaders gave the survey to their departments, and then in April 2015, the Teacher Leaders identified patterns that would become the criteria used to evaluate different curricular options. Principals and district administrators were also invited to provide input via the survey.

Category Criteria
Common Core-Aligned Rigorous Tasks
  1. Aligned to Common Core standards and objectives
  2. Built-in opportunities for academic discussion and collaboration
  3. Students synthesize multiple sources and read complex texts to support effective writing across text types and genres.
  4. Annotation and close reading are embedded practices.
Differentiation
  1.  Supports and scaffolds for differentiation (special ed, ELLs, etc.)
  2. Variety of text types (including newspaper and magazine articles, blogs, op-eds, websites) and text complexity
  3. Promotes small group and individualized/personal learning opportunities
  4. Balances grade-level, complex texts with time for students to participate in leveled independent reading.
Engagement/ Cultural Responsiveness
  1. Culturally and developmentally relevant texts and topics that reflect student identities and experiences.
  2. Content includes multiple perspectives and provides exposure to larger world.
  3. Real world connections with civic engagement opportunities and a social justice lens
  4. Opportunities for student choice and decision-making
Language
  1. Word Study, e.g., analysis of word families, affixes, roots, tone, diction, antonyms/synonyms
  2. Tier 2 and 3 academic and disciplinary vocabulary instruction
  3. Grammar, usage, and mechanics are taught within context of authentic written and oral communication.
  4. Structured listening opportunities are embedded in the content. For example, “listening to one minute of a podcast to identify the cause and effect language.”
  5. Oral Language Practice and opportunities for presentation and academic discussion
  6. Scaffolds are present to support “content language objectives.” For example: practicing cause and effect language with student friendly topics before applying to content
Materials/ Technology
  1. Allows for Blended Learning–small group or individualized computer-based learning and practice along with with teacher-directed instruction
  2. Media resources embedded in the lessons, e.g., videos and interactive websites
  3. Balance of fiction and nonfiction
Unit Design/ Lesson Design
  1.  Interdisciplinary connections
  2. Vertical articulation and scope and sequence
  3. Daily activities designed to support students in successfully completing project-based and authentic tasks
  4. Formative assessment (checks for understanding along the way) and summative assessment (for mastery)
  5. Year-long overarching questions, essential questions for each unit, daily learning targets/objectives
  6. Student exemplars or models

Criteria developed by OUSD teachers to evaluate new ELA/Literacy programs.

The review team then used the criteria to help narrow down the possible curricular options and invited a set of publishers to submit their materials for review and piloting.

The decision to pilot the materials was made by the OUSD Literacy Department leaders because of a deeply-held belief in the importance of their district teachers’ professional input. They didn’t want educators to have to choose materials based simply on a vendor’s presentation, or worse, have district leaders choose the materials without allowing teachers to see and work with the materials. Thus, even though California does not require districts to pilot or collect implementation feedback on proposed materials (even if they’re buying materials not on the state’s approved list), Oakland’s leaders were adamant that its teachers should be a part of the piloting.

To learn how the district conducted its pilot of three possible ELA/literacy programs, watch for the next post in the Oakland Case Study Series.

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About the Author: Student Achievement Partners is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving student achievement through evidence-based action. Founded by some of the lead writers of the Common Core State Standards, the organization works closely with educators and other partners in the education field ensure the promise of the Common Core is realized in classrooms across the country.