By Shannah Estep, EdReports.org Outreach Specialist

June 20, 2018

One of my favorite parts of the work I do with EdReports is learning alongside and supporting districts that are considering a new instructional materials adoption.

Many districts have limited time and resources to spend on this important decision, and there can be an overwhelming number of programs to choose from. To add to the pressure, materials make a huge impact on student learning, teachers’ professional development, district assessments, and communication with parents.

So what are the best strategies for ensuring your district chooses wisely? Here are three tips that will set your adoption process on the right track and guide you in your quest for high-quality, aligned instructional materials.

1. Establish your criteria for success

Before you make a quick decision or repeat past adoption processes, it is critical to have a clear vision of what success means for this materials selection.

The districts that do this well have answered the following questions prior to beginning their own curriculum search: Why is the district adopting new materials? What are the adoption team’s goals for how the curriculum will support instruction and be used in classrooms? What are the successes and challenges from prior adoptions?

The answers to these questions will serve as your foundation when it is time to determine local priorities and communicate with stakeholders.

Our Understanding Your Needs Inventory is a great place to start when establishing your goals and vision for new materials. As a district team, you can begin to reflect on past successes and challenges, identify new needs, and ground your instructional materials initiatives in data.

2. Identifying non-negotiables and nice-to-haves

Food, water, and air are all things we can’t live without. Owning a beach house in the south of France? This would certainly be nice to have, but not necessary for survival. As your district begins the adoption process, determining true non-negotiables is key to reaching the goals you’ve set for your students. And it’ll ensure you don’t equate curriculum essentials with curriculum supports. 

Defining those non-negotiables will take time and attention. Getting them right will help you to use EdReports reviews to determine which materials you want to explore in more detail. Many district committees start with a brainstormed list of all the things they’d like to see or have in a new program. Then, by looking at their data and using the needs inventory from step one, they narrow that list to three to four absolute must-haves. The best way to think about these must-haves is that they are the components of quality curriculum critical for student success. Nice-to-haves are still important but simply weighted less in the decision-making process.

Some examples of districts’ non-negotiables we’ve seen include: strong foundational skills, supports for students below grade level, culturally relevant texts, supports for English learners, and math content support for elementary teachers. As a best practice, we recommend having a manageable set of non-negotiables. And the most successful districts always have high-quality, standards-aligned content as their primary priority. 

Because districts often consider standards-alignment their most essential non-negotiable, EdReports reviews are great tools to use as you examine the potential curriculum options. Rather than spending hours combing through all materials on the market, you can use the evidence that EdReports educators have already collected to identify which sets of materials you’d like to explore in more detail.

You’ll be able to see high-level and detailed evidence about the alignment for hundreds of available math and ELA programs. That evidence can help you decide - based on your district capacity - which materials are already standards-aligned and which materials your team is able to augment and make standards-aligned.

After winnowing based on alignment, districts will have a set of high-quality programs to evaluate for additional non-negotiables and nice-to-haves, including local priorities.

3. Review for Local Priorities

Once you’ve narrowed your program choices to a more manageable size using the alignment evidence  in EdReports reviews, you’ll be able to dig in and examine the materials through a local lens: How are they designed?  Will they speak to your student population? Do they address district priorities such as cultural relevance, technology integration, and considerations for non-native English speakers?

Maybe you have an incredibly diverse student community, maybe you have a large population of English language learners, maybe price is an important consideration. These considerations are critical and there is no one better prepared to examine the evidence in EdReports and dig into the materials closely than the educators in your district. They have the closest connection to your students and the best lens on your specific non-negotiables and nice-to-haves.

As EdReports ELA reviewer Stephanie Stephens said of her own district’s curriculum search, “We don’t have to make a choice between high-quality, aligned materials AND those that our students can connect to. We can have both.”

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