In the past, you could say a textbook was “aligned” if you went through your standards and checked-off whether each was covered in the materials. I worked on a textbook adoption committee where we compared a checklist of standards to the materials we were considering. After we completed our review, I felt good about using those materials in my classroom simply because we had been able to check the box for most of the standards.
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for Mathematics require us to think about math instruction in a more holistic way, however, and consider not only the topics that instructional materials address, but also how they address them. The Common Core requires changes in classroom practice (the Shifts), and instructional materials need to reflect these changes if we expect them to occur. Thus, as you review instructional materials with the Common Core in mind, you’ll want to look for alignment not just to the Standards but for the Shifts required by the Standards. It is important that the materials ensure that our students learn all the content of their given grade by providing a focused and coherent experience that allows for equal intensity on fluency, conceptual understanding, and application.
One of the benefits of the Common Core State Standards is allowing teachers to move away from an approach to math instruction that favors treating each math standard as a shallow topic or a disconnected skill to teach in isolation. In the past, we had so many distinct topics and standards to get to that we relied on the belief that they’d all show up somewhere in the book; we didn’t always think strategically about whether there was appropriate emphasis on the content that mattered the most or strong connections between the mathematical ideas students were learning. However, the CCSS demand more focused and deeper instruction to make sure our students are college- and career-ready and our materials need to reflect that.
If we go through the exercise of simply matching standards to textbook lessons, we stand to lose the big, fundamental differences the Common Core brings to math instruction. For instance, a content crosswalk will not encourage you to consider the balance of rigor required by the Standards. When reviewed with the Instructional Materials Evaluation Tool (IMET), which was created specifically to identify alignment to the Shifts, materials are scrutinized to make sure that each aspect of rigor is meaningfully addressed, as required by the Standards. Rather than just checking off individual standards, the IMET requires us to look for whether there are conceptual discussion questions that require students to make sense of the meaning of the operation. We look to see whether there is systematic practice throughout the year to ensure that students will be fluent with multiplication facts by the end of the year. We look to ensure that there are application problems that ask students to use their newfound understanding of multiplication to solve real-world problems. By considering these issues, the IMET allows us to ensure that materials provide more for our students than simply a table of contents that looks like a checklist of the Standards.