I remember as a first-year teacher being given the Teacher’s Editions for reading and math programs with no training on how to use them or why I should use them. As a result, I had what admittedly was a rather hit-or-miss approach to using the activities provided in them and other activities that I developed on my own or borrowed from other teachers. A few years later, my teaching colleagues and I were involved in selecting a new reading program for our school. Sample sets of the materials were displayed in the school library, and we perused the teacher’s manuals and various materials that accompanied them. However, with limited guidance and no review rubric, I remember little discussion of how well each set of materials addressed the learning goals or needs of the inner-city, low-income students in our school. Mostly, the discussions were about whether we liked the stories included or the materials that accompanied them.
Current research has created a focus on the selection of instructional materials that is very different from what I experienced in my early career. For example, using a top-ranked instructional program in fourth or fifth grade math has been found to increase student achievement by 3.6 percentile points (Kane et al., 2016). Additionally, when teachers were provided online access to high-quality lessons, student math achievement increased by .06 of a standard deviation. When those teachers were also provided with support on why and how to use the lessons, student math achievement increased by .09 standard deviation, representing a similar effect size to the students being taught by a highly rated teacher or reducing class size by 15% (Jackson & Makarin, 2017). As a result, many states and districts have prioritized selecting and adopting high-quality instructional materials (HQIM), which are defined as being aligned to rigorous academic standards, grounded in research-based teaching strategies, and easy to use.
However, even with the increasing state and district focus on selecting and adopting HQIM and teachers identifying HQIM and textbooks as one of their top five funding priorities (Scholastic, 2016), teachers still report spending 7–12 hours a week searching for or creating instructional resources, many of which are drawn from unvetted sources (Goldberg, 2016). A 2017 RAND analysis found that Google (96% of teachers) and Pinterest (75% of teachers) are primary online sources of lessons and materials. Additionally, teachers who work in schools with higher populations of students receiving free and reduced-price lunch use unvetted sources for lessons and materials at an even higher rate (Opfer et al., 2016).
So, why are teachers continuing to search online for lessons and materials that are unlikely to meet the definition of HQIM? Reasons may include limited support for implementation and use in the classroom once the HQIM is adopted by the district or school or a lack of understanding as to why a particular HQIM was selected. While a critical first step in improving student achievement is the selection and adoption of HQIM, that is not enough to ensure teacher use of the materials or student success. Three best practices identified to support teachers in the implementation of HQIM include:
- Including teachers and other stakeholders throughout the process, from materials adoption to the process for training on the use of the materials in the classroom to ensure their input and buy-in;
- Ensuring that professional development is content-based and focused on the specific instructional materials that teachers are expected to implement; and
- Giving teachers time to understand the new instructional materials, opportunities to practice using them, and providing them with feedback directly connected to their use of the materials (Miller & Partelow, 2019).
Considering that improving the quality of elementary math curricula has been found to be 40 times more cost-effective than class-size reduction (Boser et al., 2015), districts and states should continue their focus on selecting and adopting HQIM and increase their support for teachers as they learn how to implement these materials.
Author: Robin Jarvis, Ph.D., Region 7 Comprehensive Center
Boser, U., Chingos, M., & Straus, C. (2015). The Hidden Value of Curriculum Reform: Do States and Districts Receive the Most Bang for Their Curriculum Buck? Center for American Progress. https://cdn.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/06111518/CurriculumMatters-report.pdf
Goldberg, M. (2016). Classroom Trends: Teachers as Buyers of Instructional Materials and Users of Technology. K-12 Market Advisor.
Jackson, K. & Makarin, A. (2017). Can Online Off-the-Shelf Lessons Improve Student Outcomes? Evidence from a Field Experiment. American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, 10(2), 226–254. https://www.nber.org/papers/w22398
Kane, T., Owens, A., Marinell, W., Thai, D., & Staiger, D. (2016). Teaching Higher: Educators’ Perspectives on Common Core Implementation. Harvard University Center for Policy Research. https://cepr.harvard.edu/teaching-higher
Opfer, V., Kaufman, J., & Thompson, L. (2016). Implementation of K-12 State Standards for Mathematics and English Language Arts and Literacy. RAND Corporation. https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1529-1.html
Scholastic Teacher and Principal School Report: Equity in Education. (2016). https://www.scholastic.com/teacherprincipalreport/Scholastic-Teacher-and-Principal-School-Report.pdf