In the first webinar of our 2021 series, Adopting Materials Through an Equity-Focused Lens, we dove into two pioneering research studies on the link between equity in education and the use of high-quality instructional materials in the classroom. TNTP's “The Opportunity Myth” and UnboundEd's concept paper “Equitable ELA Instruction” helps educators to understand the challenges school systems face in creating opportunities for all students to receive a quality education. 

We were joined by Josh Parker, Senior Director of Programs and Cohorts at UnboundEd, and Bailey Czupryk, Vice President for Practices, Diagnosis, and Impact at TNTP. Bailey is responsible for leading the team that created TNTPs' 2018 study, “The Opportunity Myth” which followed nearly 4,000 students in five diverse school systems to learn more about their experiences. The study found that most students were missing out on four crucial resources: grade-appropriate assignments, strong instruction, deep engagement, and teachers with high expectations.

She discussed some of the push back her organization has received in response to the study: "One common push back to our findings is, 'but the kids who are behind can't do that grade level stuff, it's too hard.' What we also saw when we looked into our data is actually kids grew a lot faster, even when they were substantially below grade level, if they got access to grade-level assignments."

The TNTP study found that students completed their assignments successfully 73% of the time, but the tasks they were asked to complete were only aligned to grade-level standards 17% of the time. This finding is key to EdReports' mission to ensure all students receive the content necessary to prepare them for college and careers. 

"We tell kids consistently that if you come to school and do what you're asked you'll be set up for success—and if you aren't set up for success that's actually on you. But adults are making choices that determine whether or not they're going to have the experiences they need to set them up to reach their goals." 

- Bailey Czupryk, TNTP

Josh Parker from UnboundEd discussed why his organization produced the concept paper “Equitable ELA Instruction.” The paper focuses on the critical role of grade-level texts and tasks—expertly delivered and supported—to ensure all students meet their potential. While the key ideas in the paper were developed before COVID-19, they are essential to consider for remote instruction, as well as for recovery planning. 

"We start with a high-quality greenlit curriculum, but that does not negate the need to build expertise and shared meaning around what the standards look like in practice. The second action of equitable instruction is providing support that fosters all students persistence with grade-level reading and thinking." 

- Josh Parker, UnboundEd

Josh examined the critical differences between modifying a curriculum and providing a scaffold, such as utilizing leading questions that direct students back to the text and help students meet expectations of grade-level assignments without compromising the core aspects of the task. He said: "The person doing the talking and reading and writing is the person doing the thinking, so if your scaffolding takes away those opportunities from students it's actually a modification."

If a student needs accelerated learning, utilizing texts that help build knowledge on a topic while also increasing reading comprehension can allow students to advance, regardless of where they start, without taking away key opportunities through modification. 

Returning to in-person learning

At the top of many educators’ minds is how to support students to accelerate learning as districts across the country transition back to in-person learning amidst the pandemic. One webinar participant asked, "As we transition from remote learning into hybrid learning, I'm concerned students are not getting enough work, so what are your thoughts on how we proceed as students return to school full time?" 

"Thinking about what we experienced over the past year, we need to be really clear that every kid should be experiencing grade-level content."

- Bailey Czupryk, TNTP

Josh emphasized the importance of quality over quantity. One or two high-quality, grade-level tasks are preferable to five or six assignments that may not meet the high-quality standards we want for our students. 

Bailey highlighted that as students return to in-person instruction, assuming that large chunks of content need re-teaching could be detrimental to student learning. Instead, being strategic about providing scaffolds that help students engage with grade-level content without modifying the content itself is crucial for solid student outcomes going forward. 

"Advocate for the adoption of high-quality instructional materials because students deserve that. We have high-quality kids. They deserve high-quality materials and instruction."

- Josh Parker, UnboundEd

The biggest takeaway from this webinar is that teachers and students need to be supported with high-quality instructional materials as a lever for equity. Students from historically marginalized backgrounds experience more profound impacts of inequitable curricula in schools. Closing the gap and turning the opportunity of college and career success from a myth to reality means investing in the best, grade-level appropriate resources for all students. 

Watch the webinar to learn more: