Part 1 of Louisiana Case Study

New Standards, New Approach to Reviews

Details Louisiana's instructional materials review process

In 2012, the state of Louisiana conducted a curricular review using their existing review process. The alarming results: nothing was fully aligned to their College and Career standards. “In Louisiana we’re committed to ensuring that schools are able to choose amongst high quality curricular options,” said Rebecca Kockler, Assistant Superintendent of Academic Content within the Louisiana Department of Education. “It was hard to say that their choices were so limited; that nothing was aligned.”

More importantly, the review process left them at a dead end. Nothing reflected their new standards, that much they agreed on, but then what should districts do? Should districts buy something anyway and hope for the best; filling in the gaps where they could? Should the state try to create better materials to offer districts? If so, what should they do differently? What were the biggest gaps and problem trends? While Louisiana, like most other states, no longer requires districts to choose from a pre-approved textbook list, the districts still depend on them for guidance, and Kockler was determined to give them some answers. “Publishers had not yet produced materials that our districts could feel confident in choosing, said Kockler. “But we also knew some products were more aligned than others, our existing reviews just didn’t show that.”

Kockler asked her team, who had been leading instructional materials reviews in Louisiana for 15 years, “Why don’t we do something different?” The team knew that districts would continue to purchase whatever was available in the textbook marketplace and they would need more than the ‘yes or no’ of a textbook list to make informed choices (especially since the current list was full entirely of ‘no’s’). They wanted their districts to be smart consumers, which meant they’d need to conduct reviews that would produce practical information about the quality and alignment of publisher-created curriculum options.

A second goal for Kockler and her team was to create free, open-access materials to support teachers in supplementing existing options. If done well, the reviews could provide guidance on what was needed given where the publishers’ materials were missing the mark.

Both goals required a reliable tool and review process that would clearly show the gaps in the alignment of current materials on the market and already in classrooms. Kockler’s team could then report those findings to districts as well as get to work creating supplemental tools to help address the immediate problems. The process was daunting, but everyone on Kockler’s team was on board. “I think they felt a sense of relief when I said we can do this better and differently,” Kockler reflected.

The first step was finding a tool that would help them create a review process that was focused on getting clear, actionable outcomes. They wanted to be transparent with districts, using a tool that the district leaders would not only understand but also value; making use of its outcomes in decision-making processes. This hadn’t been the case with previous rubrics. “I think our old review tools were technical and overwhelming to read. They weren’t accessible in a way that a district could make sense of them and do something with that information,” Kockler explained.

The Louisiana team began their search, looking for a tool that provided clear criteria for identifying standards-alignment in instructional materials in a format that helped districts use the tools, and through a process that provided more than just a ‘yes or no’ answer. They turned to Student Achievement Partners because of the organization’s expertise with the standards and high quality support tools for educators. They found what they were looking for in the Instructional Materials Evaluation Tool (IMET), With the Shifts and the major features of the standards at its center, this was a tool that could help them identify the gaps in current materials in a clear, concrete way – and would allow them to share clear evidence that would give districts the information they needed to make informed choices for their students. It was also a tool that could guide the state as it created its own materials to address the current alignment problems.

Continue to follow this series to find out how the Louisiana team used and adapted the IMET to build and train a team of reviewers, how they completed their reviews, and what they found.

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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.