Common Core Curriculum Choice - Meeting the “Verb”
An interesting new site and service has undertaken the arduous task otherwise distributed to every teacher and every school across the entire U.S. – analyzing digital materials from a number of angles including meeting the action verbs written into the Common Core State Standards (CCSS.)
In just a few weeks, K-12 schools will be doing their “curriculum mapping” exercises and starting to select some of their essential instructional materials – now from tens of millions of possibilities.
There are now many more instructional materials options, especially in the digital realm. More than ever, curriculum directors and superintendents will be deluged with thousands of choices. Should they stay with traditional printed textbooks, convert to 100% digital curriculum, use mobile applications and/or try to go with open educational resources (OER)? What mix will actually work?
How can they ensure that whatever they choose will be 100% aligned to state standards and best meet the needs of their students while utilizing fixed or reduced budgets? Will the choice meet those elusive “verbs” written into the Standards?
First, let’s take a snapshot of the dynamics across the country.
In 2011, 45 states and DC were adopting the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which inevitably meant that their districts would need to purchase new instructional materials. And, because the adoption of the CCSS lowered the barriers to entry, many new publishers were entering the K-12 market. That same year, the Texas Legislature drastically cut funding for public schools and simultaneously deregulated the purchasing of instructional materials. Like other states, that meant that district leaders would be faced with many more choices while managing the same charter with a reduced budget.
In Texas in 2011, an Associate Executive Director for the Texas Association of School Boards, Jackie Lain, heard repeatedly from district staff overwhelmed by the task of reviewing an ever-increasing selection of instructional materials. A former school attorney, her first solution was to expand the Association’s national purchasing co-operative to include instructional materials and technology. Purchasing through the co-op relieved districts of their legal duty to competitively bid instructional materials purchases. The co-op provides districts with access to objective data about thousands of products: price, packaging and the percentage of Common Core or Texas state standards addressed by each product.
The co-op was unveiled in August 2012 during a conference of curriculum directors, instructional materials coordinators and other district administrators from across Texas. A conference participant asked “Where did you get the correlations in the co-op?” The answer, “From the publishers,” drew a collective groan from the participants. When asked what the problem was with publishers’ correlations, a plain-spoken superintendent explained: “Publishers generally align their products to the ‘noun’ of the standard, but, our students are tested on their mastery of the verb of the standards.” In other words, will the student be able to do the standard – what is cognitively demanded? Cognitive demands written into the standards include action verbs such as:
“Use Technology” and others.
A continued dialogue revealed that not only do educators need reliable alignment information, they also want qualitative information to help them select the materials that will best meet their students’ needs. For example, they want to know whether the instruction is grade-level appropriate and sufficiently rigorous, whether it’s coherent, or vertically aligned from grade level to grade level, logically presented within the grade level, and whether it contains sufficient real world examples and activities that make the instruction relevant to students’ lives in order to keep them engaged.
Introducing Learning List
Learning List Review Snapshot
Jackie’s desire to help school districts address this critical information void was the genesis of Learning List, a subscription-based, library of professional reviews of K-12 instructional materials. Think of Learning List as a combination of Consumer Reports® and Angie’s List™ for K-12. Learning List is also a service, not just a site. Subscribers can access Learning List’s online library of completed reviews and request reviews of additional materials, including open-educational resources. In that way, Learning List functions as an extension of the school’s/district’s curriculum team.
For each product, LearningList.com features three types of independent reviews to provide multiple perspectives about each product:
(1) a detailed alignment report verifying the publisher’s correlation to the CCSS or Texas standards;
(2) a professional editorial review assessing the instructional content and design to provide educators with the qualitative information they need to determine whether the product will meet their students’ needs; and,
(3) educator ratings and reviews on criteria that matter most to educators.
Defining Alignment and “to the Verb”
Learning List verifies that instructional material is aligned to the content, context and cognitive demand of each standard. One of the most challenging aspects of an alignment analysis is to determine whether the material aligns to the verb of the standard to grade-appropriate level of rigor.
A comprehensive online video-based material could more easily provide simulations and prompts to ensure that students demonstrate their mastery of the content of the standards in in the manner prescribed by the verb(s) in each standard. In contrast, a print material intended to be a study guide may contain descriptions and examples, but it may not contain simulations, prompts or questions. Could the examples alone suffice to align the material to the verbs of the standards?
This is really the issue with moving to the Common Core State Standards.
In order for a material to be aligned to the verb of a standard, does the material have to require students to demonstrate that they can do what the standard expects students to be able to do, or is it sufficient for the material to prepare students to be able to do what the standard expects? In other words, must instructional materials contain prompts (questions, activities) or would an example depicting what the standard is be sufficient for teaching?
Learning List’s subject matter experts agreed that materials that contain robust examples may align to lower rigor verbs such as “identify,” “compare” or perhaps even “understand,” particularly in the earlier grade levels. But, in order to align to most verbs, materials must contain teacher prompts or questions or activities for students that require students to demonstrate the action (e.g., “ask and answer,” “analyze” or “demonstrate”) required by the verb of the standard.
Additional tools on the site make it easy for educators to collaborate in their selection of materials so that they spend less time in selection committee meetings and have more time to teach. Learning List also helps educators identify “fill-in-the-gap” products and resources to meet the needs of special student populations. And, teachers can use Learning List’s detailed alignment reports for the materials their district has purchased to develop standards-aligned lesson plans throughout the school year.
If your staff has too many choices and too little time to review all of the available instructional materials, subscribing to Learning List is one possible action to take.LearningList.com features reviews of hundreds of Common Core math and ELA materials and Texas math, ELA, science, and technology applications products. Additional reviews are published weekly for subscribers.