If You’re Not Purchasing, Should You Still Review?

Even though many districts are not in a position to purchase new materials in the short-term, training reviewers now is a smart long-term investment

The adoption of the Common Core Standards has thrown many districts’ purchasing plans off course. While a few districts have purchased on schedule, many have done research that led them to believe that waiting is the best policy. Of the districts that decided to hold off on purchasing, many are using online resources in the interim or finding ways to adapt old materials to make them more aligned.

If your district is not sure when they will purchase new ELA and math materials, your district is not alone. But does the decision to delay a purchase necessarily mean a delay in training reviewers? I believe it should not, for three reasons.

It takes time to build expertise. Many of us worked with old standards for years, decades. Learning these new standards, and especially the Shifts, which are critical, will take us all time. This is notable because many of us come to the table as “experts”, but in this new arena, we have in some ways stepped back to novice. We must build in time to look together at examples (and non-examples) and talk about where we see alignment, so that we can create a shared understanding across our team and across our district.

The more you see, the better you understand. When districts start this work, they often have significant disagreements about whether a particular resource is well-aligned or not. It takes time to come to agreement on what focus looks like in a third grade math book, or what it looks like to build content knowledge within a year and across years in ELA materials. The more your review team has the opportunity to work together, the more confident they will become in their reviews. We have only begun to see publishers responding to the Standards with creative materials, and there is likely to be a wide variety in terms of what these materials look like. Being able to discern alignment among materials that look and feel very different is critical – and takes practice.

Building strong reviewers pays off in other ways. If your district develops a group of practitioners who have a deep understanding of what well-aligned materials look like, their expertise pays off in a wide variety of ways. In New York City, we originally recruited and trained a group of teachers to become experts in identifying well-aligned materials because we were building a website of exemplars for teachers to look at and borrow as they practiced instruction that aligned to the Shifts. Those teachers played a critical role in guiding the review of those materials, but they also were a valuable asset to their departments and their school communities. They took on informal and formal leadership roles and could articulate the changes they saw in their students’ achievements because of the Shifts.

Currently some of the participating districts in the Instructional Materials Taskforce are planning on an imminent purchase. But others are investing in doing reviews now, knowing that their purchasing window hasn’t yet been determined, because they know that it is to their long-term advantage to build capacity now.

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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.