Research and Reflections, Standards-Alignment Information, Tools and Resources

Connecting the Dots

Making a Match Between Assessment Texts and Materials in ELA

How often have you heard the words: “I’m sick of teaching to the test?” Back in our teaching days, we said it ALL.THE.TIME. But what if you lived in a world where the state summative end-of-year test actually reflected the kind of content that you saw in high-quality classroom materials? Would you still be “teaching to the test,” or would you actually just be “teaching grade-level content”?

You will be happy to know that there is an organization out there that has set a bar for quality summative assessments that reflect the dream world described above. The CCSSO Criteria for Procuring and Evaluating High-Quality Assessments outline the expectations for standards-aligned summative assessments (the big, bad state test). Section B is all about the texts that are on these assessments. A close look at section B reveals that the first two criteria focus on texts: the passages must be high-quality and appropriately complex for the grade. Furthermore, text complexity must be determined by using a combination of quantitative and qualitative evaluation. Does this practice sound familiar? If so, it’s because that is also best practice for texts used in classroom settings.

Several summative assessment programs have taken these criteria to heart. While we would never claim that every text on every state test is perfect, check out the examples below:

Texts like these reflect a change in state summative assessments. Thanks to guidelines like the CCSSO Criteria, it is becoming more and more clear that, regardless of changes to state standards, high-quality, grade-level complex texts are here to stay on state summative assessments.

Let’s step away from the test for a minute, though, and talk about the materials that you have in your classroom. EdReports, much like the CCSSO Criteria, emphasizes the quality and complexity of texts in its evaluation rubric for instructional materials. Gateway 1, Criterion 1, reads, “Texts are worthy of students’ time and attention: texts are of quality and are rigorous, meeting the text complexity criteria for each grade. Materials support students’ advancing toward independent reading.”

High-quality instructional materials that provide students with great grade-level texts to read and analyze exist. One only needs to look at the Compare Materials page (K-2) (3-8) (HS) of EdReports to see the names of many programs that have been rated as green for Criterion 1.

It is clear that we are moving in the right direction in regard to connecting the dots in our educational systems. But you know we don’t all live in a world where there is always beautiful connection between classroom and summative assessment texts. This mismatch between the parts of our educational system can cause huge problems for teachers and students. So what is a teacher to do? Well, we here at Student Achievement Partnters love a good solutions table, so take a look at the one below, and let us know what you think:

Problem Potential Solutions
You’ve got high-quality, appropriately complex texts in your instructional materials, but the texts on your summative assessment don’t meet those expectations. Advocate for high-quality assessment in your state by:

  • emailing your state’s assessment director and ask how your state’s assessment lines up with the expectations outlined in the CCSSO Criteria
  • asking to join an item or passage review panel
You’ve got high-quality, appropriately complex texts on your state summative assessment, but the texts in your instructional materials don’t meet those expectations. Ask your district to adopt new materials that include high-quality, appropriately complex texts. The following tools and resources can support the adoption process:

  • EdReports Reviews show programs that have been rated highly by national panels of educators
  • The Instructional Materials Evaluation Tool (IMET) is a tool designed to evaluate curriculum, inform purchasing decisions, and build understanding about aligned materials across review teams (and includes professional development modules to support this work)
  • The Materials Alignment Quick Check is a is a condensed version of the IMET, offering a quick and easy version of the key indicators that will help you determine if a program is well-aligned

Check out this webinar about the importance of high-quality instructional materials, presented by the Nebraska Materials Matter collaborative.

If you are using Wonders 2017 or Journeys 2014, use the Materials Adaptation Project Materials to elevate the best texts and materials included in the program.

You’ve got high-quality, appropriately complex texts in your instructional materials, AND high-quality instructional materials, but you are finding that your students still struggle with accessing grade-level appropriate texts. If you teach K-2, make sure you are using a strong foundational skills program to ensure that students have the skills to access complex text in the upper grades. The following tools can provide information about teaching foundational skills in your classroom:

Ask a college or coach to observe a close reading lesson using the Instructional Practice Guide (IPG) to see if your instruction is lining up with the expectations of the Shifts and standards. Use the questions in the IPG’s Beyond the Lesson Guides to reflect upon your practice.

Dig into the Instructional Practice Toolkit to learn more about implementing the Shifts in your classroom.

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About the Author: Katie Keown is an ELA/Literacy Specialist on the Advisory Support team at Student Achievement Partners. She began her career as a Teach for America corps member, teaching middle school reading in rural Mississippi. She later moved on to teaching high school English in Illinois. While teaching high school English, her work revising the district's ELA curriculum led to a 24% jump in ACT writing scores across the district. Most recently, Katie worked for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt-Riverside. She started as a Content Development Specialist, working her way up to the role of Supervisor, managing the High School ELA team. She worked on assessments for district and state clients, as well as helped to run the development of assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Illinois.

About the Author: Laura Hansen is a Senior ELA/Literacy Specialist on the Advisory Support team at Student Achievement Partners. Prior to joining the team, Laura served as Executive Director at ETS, where she was directly involved with many state testing programs. Before that, Laura was a classroom teacher in Texas for nine years, emphasizing reading strategies and best practices in her classroom. While in the classroom, Laura also worked as a scorer for the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards. She holds a bachelor's degree in Elementary Education from the University of Texas at San Antonio and a Lifetime Teacher Certificate with Reading Specialization for the state of Texas.

About the Author: Carey Swanson is a Senior Literacy Specialist on the Advisory Support team at Student Achievement Partners. Before coming to Student Achievement Partners, Carey worked as an educational consultant, supporting leader and teacher coaching, professional development, and curricular implementation. Prior to this work, Carey was a school leader at a charter school network in Brooklyn. She has experience supporting kindergarten through eighth grade students as a teacher and school leader. Carey holds a bachelor's degree in film from Northwestern University, a master's degree in teaching from Pace University, and a master's of education degree in School Building Leadership from Teachers College, Columbia University.