Soon after the widespread adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), questions started to emerge from teachers about whether or not they would need new resources for their ELA/literacy classrooms since the Standards addressed many of the same skills as earlier standards such as reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Others asked if districts and states could trust alignment reports from the publishers themselves that were claiming comprehensive coverage of the CCSS. In response to questions like these, David Coleman (fellow Standards’ author) and I drafted the Publishers’ Criteria (PC) for ELA/Literacy.
A close look at the ELA/Literacy Standards reveals that they require a paradigm shift not always immediately evident from the individual standards listed sequentially in the 60+-page document. The PC specifies what the Standards underscore as the focal point for literacy instruction: close reading of rich, complex texts. It offers clarity regarding the key instructional Shifts that resonate throughout the ELA/Literacy Standards: Students should be reading increasingly complex texts and growing their command of evidence with the goal of building a base of knowledge across an expansive array of subject matter. By underscoring what matters most in the Standards, the PC also identifies those approaches that distract or are at odds with the Standards, such as teaching standards in isolation or marching through a set of skills.
While many cheered the PC, it also sparked an outcry. Some charged that we had anointed ourselves as THE experts to define what instructional resources should look like. Others accused us of exerting way too much influence over our nation’s educational system by first defining what students should learn and now defining how they should learn that content. Our position was that we owed it to the field to offer purposeful and strategic guidance to publishers and curriculum developers about what the Standards demanded—to which they could pay attention or not.
We made the rounds to key publishers to present the guidance in person. We also posted the PC online, and it became a favored download from achievethecore.org. Thirty-two large urban school districts committed to making purchasing decisions taking the criteria within the PC into consideration. It was at this time that we decided to “operationalize” the PC so schools and districts intending to purchase new instructional resources could utilize a rubric to evaluate their existing resources and score prospective new ones. The Instructional Materials Evaluation Tool (IMET) was the result. The PC and the IMET are mutually supporting and reinforcing: the IMET frames the PC criteria in brief, while the PC includes extended definitions of each of the criteria and explains how the criteria should work together in instructional resources.
Here’s a tip: Using the IMET is itself worthwhile even if you aren’t ready to purchase materials. You can evaluate materials you currently use to determine the degree of alignment present in them, and highlight specific, critical gaps that you can address in the meantime. Then you can create a thoughtful plan to modify or combine existing resources so students’ actual learning experiences embody text complexity, evidence and knowledge building.