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Cory Epler, PH.D.
Chief Academic Officer

Over the past year, I’ve noticed the hashtag “#materialsmatter” appearing in my Twitter feed more frequently.  EdReports, a nonprofit offering free reviews of K-12 instructional materials, promotes the hashtag as a reminder that instructional materials play an important role in student learning.  For me, the hashtag offers a simple, yet bold, statement highlighting the impact standards-aligned, high-quality instructional materials have on student learning and achievement.

The idea that when students learn from standards-aligned, high-quality instructional materials isn’t new or novel.  It’s almost too simple, right?  Even so, most state educational agencies (including NDE) have focused primarily on the development of and assessment of content area standards.  Limited attention or guidance has been placed on the instructional materials (e.g. curriculum, core programs, etc.) used to develop and facilitate standards-aligned instruction.  As a result, we have little information about which curricula are most commonly used in Nebraska and which of those resources are most effective in helping students learn the content within our state standards.  Nationally, that trend is similar.  Independent reviews and review tools like EdReports, the EQuIP rubric, or the IMET tool, illustrate a lack of standards-aligned, high-quality instructional materials available and utilized nationwide (Chiefs for Change, 2017).

To me, that’s a problem.

First, and most importantly, this is an equity issue.  We have a responsibility to ensure that all students have equitable access to the education necessary to achieve their full potential.  A key aspect of this is that all students receive strong, standards-aligned instruction.  Schmidt et al. (2015) found that low-income students are less likely to have access to high-quality content or textbooks in the classroom than students in higher income communities.  This inequity, in part, accounts for the significant achievement gap between these students and their more affluent peers.

Additionally, when students receive instruction from materials not aligned to state standards, the opportunity to learn decreases.  For example, middle school students using high-quality instructional materials receive the equivalent of an additional eight months of learning versus students using low-quality materials.  Furthermore, when high-quality materials were combined with professional development, students gained four months of learning over two years versus comparison groups (Taylor et al., 2015).  This research supports the claim that high-quality instructional materials create additional opportunities for students to learn.

The Nebraska State Board of Education approves standards for all content area.  These standards reflect what students should know and be able to do within all content areas.  Additionally, NDE is committed to building an assessment system that includes resources designed to assess all content area standards.  We have solid processes in place to develop and assess content area standards, but that’s not enough.  It is important that NDE provides leadership and support to ensure that teachers are equipped with high-quality instructional materials aligned to the state standards and that teachers receive professional development to effectively implement these materials.

But, how will we get there?

I am excited to share that Nebraska is one of seven states selected to participate in the “Instructional Materials-Professional Development Network” facilitated by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).  The goal of this two-year network is to increase the percent of districts in which new instructional material adoptions and procurements are high-quality and aligned to the state’s standards.  Our work is framed around four questions:

  1. What are the most commonly used instructional resources (curricula, core programs, etc.) that Nebraska schools utilize?
  2. What is the alignment of those instructional resources to Nebraska’s content area standards?
  3. Do all students have an opportunity to learn from high-quality instructional resources?
  4. How can NDE help districts identify high-quality, standards-aligned instructional resources?

To accomplish this work, NDE will work with the ESUs to begin identifying the instructional materials most commonly used by Nebraska schools and develop the criteria/process for determining quality and alignment.  Through this work, we hope to increase use of instructional materials aligned to our state standards and increase the percentage of teachers receiving professional development on the use of standards-aligned curricular materials.

It seems like a daunting task and NDE is headed down a path we have never gone before.  Even so, when I describe this work to others, I’m convinced that this work has the potential to be a game changer for our schools and districts.  In a July blog, EdReports summed it up:

In the end, when districts choose strong curriculum it means that teachers are supported and can spend newfound time on deepening and differentiating learning rather than scouring the internet for quality materials. And most of all, it means that all students have access to the content they need to be ready for college and careers.

Well said, my friends.  Well said.

 

References:

Chiefs for Change. (2017). Hiding in plain sight: Leveraging curriculum to improve student learning (Policy Brief). Retrieved from http://chiefsforchange.org/policy-papers/.

Schmidt, W., Burroughs, N., Zoido, P., & Houang, R. (2015). The Role of Schooling in Perpetuating Educational Inequality: An International Perspective. Educational Researcher, 44 (7).

Taylor, J., Getty, S., Kowalski, S., Wilson, C., Carlson, J., & Van Scotter, P. (2015). An efficacy trial of research-based curriculum materials with curriculum-based professional development. American Educational Research Journal, 52 (5).