Searching for Aligned Materials Doesn’t Have to Be Lonely

Breaking district and state lines in the journey toward finding Common Core-aligned materials

Selecting instructional materials is no easy task right now. While some publishers have come out with some strong early contenders, others have just placed CCSS stickers on their old materials or tinkered with materials in ways that don’t address the changes needed to reflect the Common Core.

In order to make smart instructional materials selections, reviewers must have a keen understanding of the Standards and Shifts, and a sharp eye toward spotting them manifested in materials. That’s not easy when we are all still learning the Standards and what they look like in a classroom. In my previous role leading the search for aligned materials in New York City in 2013, there was extraordinary pressure to “get it right” so that students and teachers would have the right materials in front of them, but as one of the first districts to purchase, we were all in pretty unexplored territory without a lot of guidance or expertise from others doing the same work.

A great advantage of a shared set of Standards is the opportunity for educators to collaborate across districts and across states. To that end, Student Achievement Partners launched the Instructional Materials Taskforce (IMT) in November 2014 based on the belief that when we engage in this work together, we can all learn from each other.

The primary goal of the IMT is to build district capacity around identifying aligned materials in math and in ELA so that each participating district can pick materials that will support strong, aligned instruction in classrooms. The taskforce is comprised of six districts:

  • Anaheim, CA
  • Granite Falls, WA
  • Long Beach, CA
  • Milwaukee, WI
  • Seattle, WA
  • Walla Walla, WA

These six districts represent more than 200,000 students, grades K-12. While all the districts are cognizant of the importance of choosing well-aligned materials, they are all on different timelines for when they will be ready to purchase. You might wonder how districts that aren’t in lockstep with their purchasing cycles can support each other; how can they work together if they aren’t in the same place in their processes? We’ve found that the task of building capacity to understand alignment and what it looks like is something that we can do collaboratively at any stage, whether districts are looking to purchase, supplement or even design their own materials.

The IMT has given the participants opportunity to be learning partners, giving each other feedback and support for the work going on in their individual districts. The work launched with a deep dive into the rubric we use to evaluate materials: the Instructional Materials Evaluation Tool (IMET). Through a combination of face to face meetings, phone calls, and web conferencing, we have come together every two weeks for the last five months to grapple with specific content questions, to understand particular Shifts and how they should manifest themselves in materials, and to continually push each other with questions and examples (including those from the districts themselves). Meanwhile, each district has selected and trained reviewers across their district, and those reviewers have begun to review math and ELA products.

While the work is hard, we know that working together is a win for each individual district. Because no one should have to do this work alone, our goal is to share what we’ve learned with the IMT districts with others by bringing the voices, lessons and resources from the IMT to this blog.

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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.