State of Our Classrooms: Instructional Materials

Findings from a 2017 survey about instructional materials usage among educators

Student Achievement Partners is always interested in learning about how educators are supported as they implement the Shifts in instructional practice in their schools and districts. We want to understand where we (along with organizations we partner with) should focus our resources to better serve educators. Thus, we decided to ask Core Advocates about the structures, supports, and policies in place to assist them in their work.

Student Achievement Partners’ State of Our Classrooms questionnaires ask educators in the Core Advocate Network about instructional materials, assessments, and instructional practice. The first questionnaire in the series focused on instructional materials.

The findings reaffirmed what other studies have found about the educator population at large: teachers need support around instructional materials. Our educators recognize the necessity of alignment but are struggling to identify and access materials that are truly aligned to college- and career-ready standards. Here were some of our biggest takeaways:

Teachers Need Access to Unbiased Information on Instructional Materials

Teachers have a lot on their plates and finding information on instructional materials is a resource-consuming activity. The questionnaire findings indicate that many educators don’t know where to go to quickly find transparent, unbiased reviews that will help them make decisions. It is understandable that 46% of respondents rely on publishers when it comes to claims about their materials’ alignment, as that was, at one time, one of the only available sources of information on instructional materials. Now, however, there are tools more readily available to inform choices about instructional materials.

One option is to review the materials for oneself. Evaluative tools such as the Instructional Materials Evaluation Tool (IMET) and Achieve’s EQuIP rubric can be used to gauge materials alignment. Core Action 1 of the Instructional Practice Guide (IPG) can be used to drive initial conversations about instructional materials alignment through the lens of classroom practice.

Another option is to look for completed reviews from trusted reviewers with transparent review processes and publically available rubrics. EdReports.org and the Louisiana Department of Education offer free reviews of comprehensive curricula and the Washington State Office of Superintendent and Public Instruction offers open educational resource reviews. For a more personal perspective, check out the Teacher Perspective Series here on the Aligned blog. In this series, current classroom teachers share their experiences using different curricular programs—addressing alignment to the Shifts and explaining how they’ve adapted their materials to improve alignment and meet their students’ needs.

Teachers Need Stronger, Content-focused Professional Learning

Through the questionnaire responses, we also learned that teachers in our Core Advocate Network are not always able to participate in quality professional development focused on understanding instructional materials, and when they are able to participate, the professional learning they experience is generally not helpful. Teachers and school leaders have an opportunity to change this dynamic by coming together to strengthen learning by designing, supporting, or calling for professional learning that concentrates on rich discussions around instructional materials. For example, more than 80% of Core Advocates who responded to the questionnaire report using leveled readers. Professional learning activities might then emphasize aligning instruction when using these programs by considering book baskets or focusing group learning on supplementing materials to ensure students have adequate access to grade-level complex text.

Choice is Power

Finally, the State of Our Classrooms: Instructional Materials questionnaire confirmed that Core Advocates hold much power when it comes to selecting instructional materials and supplementing adopted materials for their classrooms. Forty-nine percent of math-focused respondents and 58% of ELA/literacy-focused respondents are not required to use school- or district-adopted instructional materials or it is only recommended by the district that they do so. These findings indicate that there is a lot of opportunity for informed teachers to select college- and career-ready aligned materials.

Other Resources to Help Make Change

In addition to tools mentioned elsewhere in this blog post, Aligned offers valuable information to help make decisions about materials. Open Up Resources, UnboundED, Illustrative Mathematics, and EngageNY are all full-year educational resources that can be used to supplement or replace instructional materials lacking in alignment. Some examples of specific, tangible classroom resources that can be used to supplement instructional materials include text sets and lessons in math and ELA/literacy for grades K–12 found on achievethecore.org as well as Illustrative Mathematics’ exemplar tasks for grades K – 12, including tasks for high school on algebra, fractions, and geometry.

We wouldn’t ask doctors to work with outdated instruments–or even worse, no instruments at all. It follows, then, that teachers should not have to depend on less-than-stellar instructional materials, the tools of their profession. Great teachers need high-quality, college- and career-ready aligned materials and we should make sure that they know how to locate them and how to use them as effectively as possible.

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About the Author: Janelle Fann is a member of the Student Achievement Partners Field Impact Team.