As an educator from Reno, Nevada, I believe one of the most exciting opportunities to arise from the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is the chance to align instruction, materials, and assessments to a common set of college- and career-ready standards. The inherent promise? If we can make the instructional Shifts suggested in the Standards, support teachers and classrooms with high-quality aligned curricular materials, and assess students against those standards, it’s much more likely students will leave the K-12 system truly prepared with the future skills and information they’ll need to succeed in college, career, and life.
Since November 2014, the Instructional Materials Taskforce (IMT) members have been grappling with the challenge of aligning materials together despite being at different stages of the instructional materials review process. They are doing critical work training on and using the Instructional Materials Evaluation Tool (IMET) to review materials and evaluate alignment to the CCSS. This rigorous analysis has revealed strengths and weaknesses in a variety of curricular materials (including those in use in the IMT districts right now), and all of the member districts agree that there is no time like the present to begin building capacity in review teams. Training and calibrating on the IMET can prepare districts for a variety of activities including the following:
Purchasing materials: IMET reviews can help differentiate materials genuinely reflecting the priorities of the Standards from those merely repackaged and affixed with a CCSS label. Initially impressed with the latest “Common Core” edition of a popular basal, one of the IMT district leaders found — upon evaluation using the IMET — that the quality of the text-dependent questions, although better than previous editions, wasn’t quite as strong as she had initially thought. The questions were still driven by skills and strategies rather than the careful reading of text to make meaning. The team is continuing to review, confident they will have a deep understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of any materials in which they ultimately invest.
Evaluating materials currently in use: By analyzing the degree of alignment of existing materials, districts can take stock of what’s included in their materials, what’s missing, and what can improved. This will allow them to make plans with concrete steps to strengthen materials. For example, after being confronted with the lack of sequenced texts on topics to support students in building vocabulary and knowledge (as required by Alignment Criteria 1A of the IMET), a district leader from one IMT district plans to supplement with text sets (packs of texts on science and social studies topics designed to increase student reading and vocabulary). This fix will improve alignment and support students in reading as well as in growing content knowledge. Another district is compensating for the weakness in text-dependent questions in their materials (Non-Negotiable 2) by using the Basal Alignment Project resources. Through supplementing, teachers and students have access to a higher quality of aligned materials.
Developing materials: Guided by an understanding of the IMET criteria, local teams developing their own aligned curricula can focus efforts where they will have the greatest effect on improving alignment. One IMT district is in the process of developing units of study by checking alignment against the IMET criteria as they work. The foundational knowledge of the priorities in the Standards and Shifts helps the team focus efforts on ensuring that high-quality texts and strong text-dependent questions and tasks anchor all of their lessons.
Building capacity to use instructional materials: Last, but not least: whether the IMET is used to purchase, supplement, or develop new materials, by training on the IMET, reviewers build capacity to use materials well. By analyzing alignment using the IMET, reviewers deepen their understanding of the Shifts and Standards. They investigate programs holistically and take a careful look at program components to evaluate alignment to the Standards. All of the IMT members agree, that this is some of the best collaborative professional learning, and it sets up teams to subsequently focus on instruction using well-aligned materials. In my book, that’s a win for everyone!