The past grim, difficult year challenged our nation and schools like few others, so it’s important to take the time to appreciate good news when we hear it. New research from EdReports provides just such an opportunity. Titled State of the Market 2020: The Use of Aligned Materials, it explores the availability of high-quality, standards-aligned instructional materials today, and more importantly, to what extent they are actually being used by educators.
The findings are based on data from two primary sources: EdReport’s own instructional materials reviews, conducted by experienced classroom educators, principals, district leaders, and state administrators; and the RAND Corporation’s American Instructional Resources Survey, which yielded data on mathematics and English language arts (ELA) curriculum use during the 2018–19 and 2019–20 school years.
In terms of the availability of high-quality instructional materials, after reviewing a whopping 90 percent of the known materials available for K–12 mathematics and ELA, EdReports concluded that “aligned instructional materials are increasingly available.” For example, in 2020, 41 percent of mathematics materials were found to meet expectations, up from just 28 percent in 2018. For ELA, the percentage of materials meeting expectations crept up from 49 percent to 52 percent over the same period.
Of course, the availability of high-quality, standards-aligned materials really only matters if teachers are using them. Encouragingly, EdReports found that educators are increasingly doing so, noting that, “In 2019, 30 percent of mathematics teachers used at least one aligned curriculum. That number grew to 40 percent in 2020. The increase is similar for English language arts teachers. From 2019 to 2020, an 11-percentage-point increase in teachers using aligned ELA programs occurred.” Overall, based on RAND survey data, they estimate that teachers are using high-quality materials “at least 50 percent of the time, especially in math,” and that fewer teachers today are using self-created materials than in prior years.
This is especially good news, as prior research has found those to tend to be lower quality than materials vetted and recommended by districts or states. As cited in EdReports’ report, a 2019 study conducted for our organization by University of Southern California associate professor Morgan Polikoff and educational consultant Jennifer Dean similarly found that the majority of supplemental instructional materials teachers create, share, and download from popular websites were “mediocre” and deemed “not worth using.”
As the report’s authors conclude, “Instructional materials matter for student success. They mattered before the Covid-19 health crisis, and they will matter even more as schools begin to understand the impact of closures on student learning.” And while it’s encouraging that teachers are using high-quality materials at least 50 percent of the time, that still leaves much room for improvement. Among the author’s recommendations to state and district policymakers is to offer professional development for teachers tailored to curriculum, leverage high-quality curriculum to accelerate student learning, and invest in high-quality, coherent, and standards-aligned instructional materials.
In the coming year, many schools will likely, and rightly, be working to provide students with expanded mental health supports, high-dosage tutoring, and extended learning time. But as we at Fordham recently argued, these efforts should never come at the expense of schools’ core academic programs, including the adoption and use of high-quality curricula. With so many organizations now providing impartial reviews regarding the quality and alignment of instructional materials today—such as EdReports, the Louisiana Department of Education, and the California Curriculum Collaborative—there’s no shortage of information about great offerings out there. And there’s simply no excuse for not separating the wheat from the chaff.
SOURCE: “2020 State of the Market: The Use of Aligned Materials,” EdReports (March 9, 2021).
Editor's note: To learn more about EdReports and this report, tune into this week’s podcast.