By Eric Hirsch, EdReports Executive Director

March 4, 2019

Today marks four years since we released our inaugural K-8 math reports. When EdReports began reviewing math materials you couldn’t walk into a classroom without seeing stickers on textbooks claiming “100% Aligned!” “Fully Aligned!” “Alignment to the Standards Guaranteed!”

On the surface, materials aligned to strong college and career-ready standards seemed to be around every corner. But after thousands of hours of work and research we now know that wasn’t the reality. Many districts were choosing materials with little to no information in a crowded marketplace where everyone was making the same claims of excellence.

Research from the field tells us that students learn primarily through their interactions with teachers and content and that materials have a direct impact on student learning outcomes. This is particularly significant for students of color and students living in poverty who have less access to high-quality standards-aligned materials than their peers.1 

At the heart of EdReports initial reviews (and every single review since) is an understanding that unless all students are able to engage with quality materials, we will continue to perpetuate opportunity gaps and create barriers for kids to experience life-changing learning that could help them thrive in school and beyond.

The Changing Materials Market

Our first educator-led math reviews revealed exactly what many feared. The stickers were misleading: only one out of the 19 series we reviewed fully met alignment to college and career-ready standards. As we looked at the results, the consequences were stark: Students did not have access to the materials they needed to succeed after high school. Materials had to improve. For that to happen, we needed to equip districts with information to demand those changes. 

What began as a launch of 87 grade-level reviews of K-8 math in 2015 now includes more than 500 K-12 math, ELA, and (as of last week) middle school science reports. We have reviewed traditional textbooks, digital materials, and open educational resources copyrighted from 2012 through 2020. From day one, our reviews have been free to the public to ensure broad accessibility to districts and publishers alike. 

And districts have responded. More than three-quarters of a million unique visitors have accessed our reports with 530 districts representing eight million students telling us that they are using EdReports. And you don’t have to just take our word for it: in a random sample national survey in 2017-18 of 4,000 school leaders by the RAND Corporation, 26 percent indicated that they had heard of EdReports—and of those, 36 percent indicated they used EdReports “to identify, select, and implement instructional materials.” What’s more, an increasing number of districts include EdReports in requests for proposals insisting programs are reviewed and meet expectations before they are considered for adoption.

More than three-quarters of a million unique visitors have accessed our reports with 530 districts representing eight million students telling us that they are using EdReports.

As consumers demand high-quality, aligned materials, we are seeing positive changes in the materials market every day. So far, we have documented 22 publishers responding to demands from the field and using our reviews to improve their materials. Now, more than ever, districts have a wealth of evidence and information to insist upon high-quality standards-aligned materials and choose curricula that best address local needs and priorities. As of now, 32 percent of the math materials and 51 percent of the ELA materials we have reviewed are aligned meaning that districts have more quality options to choose from.

Unfortunately, even as materials have improved, a significant challenge remains in ensuring districts are using the quality materials that are available. Our analysis shows that only a small fraction of students (22 percent in math and 15 percent in ELA) are exposed to aligned curriculum at least once as week. We must to do more to do to ensure that districts are choosing great programs and that teachers have the support they need to implement those programs. Improvement to materials will matter little if students never access them.

More Work To Do

The successes we have seen in math and ELA, as well as the continued challenges we know remain, is a key reason we expanded into reviewing science programs. Forty states (including Washington D.C.) have adopted standards informed by the Next Generation Science Standards and/or A Framework for K-12 Science Education, which means the majority of states have similar science standards and vision for science education.

However, these big shifts in science standards won't lead to lasting change if we don’t support teachers with quality instructional materials designed for the powerful innovations in the NGSS. That’s why EdReports has been laser-focused on getting its first science reports out during the window when most districts are exploring their options and preparing to adopt new programs. We know that school districts are hungry for this information and could use the details in our reviews to engage publishers, train teachers, and make informed decisions. And while our inaugural release of six titles revealed that only one title met our review tool’s criteria for alignment —six does not a trend make.

We’re optimistic that science will follow the lead of ELA and math materials and improve as the field gains access to more information. 

Our work in science is only beginning. We know the power of independent, trusted data and will continue to review middle school science materials in 2019 with inaugural elementary school reviews slated for release in early 2020.  While our initial reports exhibit programs that have real challenges in meeting the demands of the standards, we’re optimistic that science will follow the lead of ELA and math materials and improve as the field gains access to more information.  

Because of Educators

As we celebrate the strides we’ve made since those first math reports, it’s important to remember that we've been able to provide more information about the market because of educators who rose to the challenge and continue their important work. Our educator reviewers are passionate about ensuring that all students and teachers have access to high-quality, aligned materials and channel their expertise to support their colleagues across the country.

We are especially proud of our by-educator approach. Educators are on our board of directors. Educators design our review rubrics. Educators meet over several months to review materials, gather evidence, and come to consensus on scoring recommendations. Without these educators, the field would still be trying to sort through stickers to make important decisions that impact our students the most. And it’s because of educators that we’re excited to see what the next four years bring and that we’re ready for the important work ahead.

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