March 10, 2020
I feel so lucky to have worked in the same school district in rural Wyoming for 23 years, first as a teacher and now as a curriculum specialist. The ability to grow my profession in one district means I’ve had a chance to develop deep ties with a community I care deeply about.
Our district is home to 5,500 students spread out over 70 miles. Many families work in the oil and gas industry meaning our student population is often transient both within and outside of the local area. We also have a large number of students learning English as a second language. Providing our students, who might be at one school in September and another school in January, with a quality education no matter what classroom they’re in is a challenge the district is especially sensitive to. And facing that challenge often starts with the instructional materials teachers are using.
Since my first days in the classroom, I have been passionate about ensuring that all of our students have access to the materials and resources to support their learning. I’ve often told the story of how I was first hired as a first grade teacher when I joined my district. We were facing a shortage of teachers at the time so I was interviewed and hired on a Friday and began work that following Monday.
Back then, we didn’t have a set curriculum in place to support our instruction. The sentiment was very much ‘fend for yourself and good luck!’ As a new teacher, I searched for and created my own materials. I had very few resources to guide me as I attempted to do all that I could to help my students build the skills they would need for lifelong success. And I won’t lie, there were times I struggled because of the materials we had. There were times when I really wished for more guidance and help. I could have never known what changes the future would bring.
The first time I ever participated in an instructional materials adoption process, I was in my second year as a first grade teacher. I was chosen to serve as an English language arts (ELA) representative on our adoption committee. All the leaders and educators I worked with on that initial ELA selection cared deeply about our students. We wanted to support every single teacher in the classroom and intended to choose a program that would serve our communities’ needs.
But there was a problem: we had almost no independent information about the quality of the instructional materials we were considering. We had nowhere to go except to the publishers who created the programs if we wanted to learn more about curriculum that would impact an entire district.
I remembered thinking, even as we’d worked so hard and had all the right intentions, that if we’d had better resources we could have done so much more.
So that’s what we did. We listened to publisher sales pitches. We examined materials on a surface level, often distracted by the bells and whistles, because we had so little data and evidence to rely on. Eventually, we ended up choosing a program from a large company. I remembered thinking, even as we’d worked so hard and had all the right intentions, that if we’d had better resources we could have done so much more.
Fast forward to 2015 when EdReports released it’s first reviews of math materials. I was in my current role as a curriculum specialist working closely with teachers across my district around the standards, professional development, and instructional materials. Even though my focus area was ELA, I was so excited by the possibility of what these new reports represented. I knew that these were the kind of resources we had lacked in my first adoption experience. As an educator, I wanted to be a part of ensuring all districts, including my own, had access to the tools that could change the way we chose new curricula.
That’s why as EdReports expanded into reviewing ELA materials in the fall of 2015, I applied to be in the inaugural cohort of ELA reviewers. Not only did I want to contribute to putting independent information into the hands of educators, I believed the training and experience would make me better at my job and help me support the teachers I worked with.
As an educator, I wanted to be a part of ensuring all districts, including my own, had access to the tools that could change the way we chose new curricula.
I anticipated learning, but I could have never imagined how much becoming a reviewer would shape my practice. The deep dive into college and career-ready standards as well as the depth of the EdReports review process gave me the tools to identify what’s quality and what’s not. I was most encouraged by all the evidence we gathered as we put together our reports. The professional learning we received and the reports we created meant that I returned to my district with new skills and real resources to bring with me.
In 2016, my district took up the task of selecting a new K-5 ELA program—this time I was able to advocate for the use of EdReports reviews in our selection process. We were all a little intimidated to try a completely different approach. However, my colleagues in the district were more comfortable after hearing about my own experience as a reviewer. I could personally attest to the fact that the reports are thorough, calibrated, and the result of dozens of educators working together. As we embraced a new process, we soon realized that having independent information we could rely on made such a difference.
Rather than accept publisher presentations as the foundation of our decision, we used EdReports to narrow down our choices based on alignment to the standards. We were then able to investigate several aligned programs more deeply and create our own district rubric to delve into how well the materials met our local needs.
Educators were engaged throughout the process through surveys we conducted, access to sample materials, and inclusion on the adoption committee. Although teachers regularly serve on our district adoption committees, having abundant evidence about programs allowed us to engage them more thoroughly and strategically because we knew the options we were presenting for feedback met a baseline for alignment and quality.
Now, all adoptions in our district are conducted with the same rigor and the same wealth of information and evidence. I often marvel at how, in just five short years, we’ve gone from being essentially in the dark about our options to having comprehensive reviews for nearly every program on the market.
As EdReports celebrates five years since the release of its first mathematics reviews, a day when I had a glimpse at how we could start to provide all teachers and students with access to great materials, I am most happy for the kids I’ve seen impacted. Through the work we’ve done in my district (and are still doing), we’re seeing gains in our reading and mathematics scores. While we still have work to do, the trends are going in the right direction. I see the students mastering the skills they will need for success in their future. This is especially meaningful to me because I know how much a consistent, equitable education across classrooms and schools can mean especially for kids who often experience so much change and movement in their lives.
Being a part of this district throughout my career has given me a wonderful opportunity to watch us grow and improve over the last two decades. In large part because of EdReports, I’ve also been able to play a part in how we’ve changed for the better. I can’t wait to see what the next five years bring and to continue working toward a time when all kids will have access to the aligned, quality materials that can change their lives.